Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Arriving in Paris was a big deal.

Well, of course it was. After all, it was friggin’ Paris. More than that, I was almost to my final destination. As much as I would have liked to have spent days—weeks—exploring Paris and every single thing I’d read and heard and dreamed about it, I had a life to get to, and that life was beyond Paris.

So I boarded the train to Rennes, rested my head against the seat, and waited for my second act to begin.

We were famous for that, weren’t we? Women, I mean. We believed in the second act, the next great thing, the moment when fortunes would change for the better. We reinvented ourselves all the time. I myself hadn’t done it before, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t believe it was all possible and that I couldn’t start over with a new life right now. And I wasn’t actually reinventing my whole life. I was more or less scaling back. A less responsible job, a smaller place to call home, a more removed set of acquaintances.

Lucia Gianetti Lite.

I’d spent weeks thinking about these next few hours, and I had pretty much perfected the entire scenario in my mind. They were sending a car to meet me at the train station. Something sleek and shiny, no doubt. Or maybe a classic Bentley. That would be a nice touch. I would roll through the summer countryside, past fields of lavender—wait, that was Provence, never mind—until pulling into the shaded drive leading to Hotel Paradis.

I couldn’t decide if the hotel was going to be a Disney-esque building with turrets and balconies, or something squarer and more substantial, like Highclere Castle, but smaller. Either way, the devoted staff would greet me, and I’d walk through the high-ceilinged front hallway, past priceless antiques and life-size portraits of a family who had run Hotel Paradis for over two hundred years, and into my new domain.

My next big adventure.

I jerked my eyes open. I didn’t want to sleep away the train ride. I didn’t want to miss a single bit of the exquisite scenery, especially not the rather delicious-looking gentleman across the aisle from me, wearing perfectly snug jeans and reading a battered paperback.

Did people still read books here? Paradise indeed.

I pulled out my phone and answered a flurry of texts that had come in since deplaning.

To my father: Yes, arrived safe on my way now.

I was touched by his concern, but let’s face it, that was his job.

To my best friend: On the train to Rennes. Hot Frenchman alert already. I cannot WAIT until you visit.

Julia and I had been to England, Spain, and Greece together. We had somehow missed France entirely, although she had been numerous times, but now …

To my obnoxious brother Frank: Of course the FBI knows I left—I needed their permission you idiot.

Oh my God. Frank knew every sordid detail of the whole scandal. More than I did, I was sure. He was the kind of guy who reveled in other people’s misfortunes, and to have such a glorious takedown involving his own sister was probably something he would cling to for the rest of his life.

To my less obnoxious brother Joe: Yes, I’m safe. Tell Mimi and Cara I’ll send pictures.

Mimi was my nine-year-old niece, Camille. Cara was her twin sister, Caroline, and they were the only members of my family I was really going to miss.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love my family. I did. But I had been focused on a career that they had never approved of, and the more successful I became, the larger and higher the disapproval rating became. I’d lived at The Fielding Hotel for eight years, working twelve hours a day, often seven days a week. That kind of commitment to a job didn’t leave much room for a commitment to anything else. Since my family never expressed anything but disapproval at my life choices, it became easy for me to distance myself from them.

I glanced at my watch. I’d taken the fast train to Rennes and had napped away the first half hour. Just a bit over an hour left … Maybe time for a drink?

I walked through a few train cars to the bar car. Yes, just like in the movies, there was a smiling man behind a miniature bar setup. I spoke slowly because my French was rusty. I’d studied the language in high school and, later, college. Before I’d been at The Fielding, I spent three years in Quebec at the Saint-Michel Hotel, where I spoke French every day. But that had been over ten years ago. I must have said the right thing, though, because he poured a glass of white wine, scanned my card, and thanked me with a smile.

I sat on the bench that ran across the length of the car and gazed out the window. Rolling countryside. Scattered farms. Wind turbines spinning in the golden French sunshine. I felt a sense of peace, and I finally let myself breathe. The past was past. I was on a new path. I even had a contract, signed and safely stashed in my carry-on, promising a monthly salary, a place to live, and the guarantee of six months’ employment as manager of the centuries-old, family-owned Hotel Paradis beginning today, March 1.

I’d been homeless and unemployed for almost two years. Well, not technically homeless. I’d been living with my parents, and it had not been a happy arrangement. My mother never approved of my having a career that kept me from being happily married with lots of children, and she’d voiced her displeasure every time I’d paid a visit home. Having me live full-time in the same house allowed her to voice that same displeasure at least once a week.

I could see her point. Having to move back into my childhood bedroom—still remarkably unchanged after almost thirty years—while in career disgrace and financial ruin was not what any parent wanted for their child. They were both over seventy and had been quietly living out their golden years growing tomatoes and coddling the granddaughters their sons had so graciously given them. The last thing they wanted was a broke and depressed fortysomething moping around every day, only leaving the house to give depositions and appear in court.

The Fielding Hotel scandal had been huge. How often does a handsome and famous owner of a glamorous hotel make off with several million dollars of mostly other people’s money and drop off the face of the earth? As the general manager of the hotel, the one left holding the bag, so to speak, my name appeared in newspapers, online, even on the nightly news for months on end. The fact that I had eventually been found entirely blameless had been mentioned once, in passing, and then ignored by pretty much the entire world.

The neighborhood where I grew up had not changed so much that my moving back had gone unnoticed. Old familiar names and faces shook their heads as I passed. Poor Lucy—not only unmarried and forced to live back with aging Sophia and Bruno, but probably going to prison for the rest of her life to boot.

But I didn’t go to prison. My lawyers took every single penny I’d managed to save throughout my entire life, but the FBI finally dropped its case against me. Tony Fielding had also left millions in debt, but my lawyers took care of those lawsuits as well, and I was completely exonerated in the end. Although my name was mud in the hotel industry in the US, France had not had the same attitude. And here I was.

I knew how lucky I was. I was not going to take this gift lightly.

I finished my wine, thought about a second glass, decided no, and went back to my seat. The book-reading gentleman did not even glance up as I sat back down. Well, I’d gotten used to that. Once upon a time, I turned heads every time I entered a room. The Fielding had a small but very high-tech fitness center, and I ran nine miles on the treadmill every day for eight years. I had also had a standing weekly appointment for a mani-pedi and a monthly hair cut-and-color at the very chichi salon three blocks away.

But that had been a lifetime ago, when I had the money and the time and inclination. For the past two years, my only motivation for leaving my bedroom had been to appear in court or for yet another interview with one of the many law enforcement agencies that had become so intensely involved in my life. Then there were all those Italian cookies from the neighborhood bakery that I became very fond of, to the tune of three or four boxes a week. God knows I didn’t have much money, but what I did have, I spent wisely.

I checked my watch again. Just twenty more minutes.

I was going to love this new life.


Emerging from the train with three large suitcases, a carry-on, and a purse required assistance from two porters and a complete stranger. Everything was piled onto a cart and rolled out of the station to the sidewalk where, I assumed, the driver of the limo/town car/Bentley would take things from there.

But there wasn’t a limo/town car/Bentley. There was, instead, a shabby Volvo with a hand-drawn sign that read Hotel Paradis in the front window. The driver was slouched in the front seat, a cigarette dangling from his mustached lip, reading a newspaper.

“Hello,” I called in English, waving.

He didn’t look up.

I went over to the Volvo, rapped on the window, and switched to French. “Are you from Hotel Paradis?” He looked up from his newspaper, lifted his shoulders in a visible sigh, and got out. He took a look at my luggage and began to mumble under his breath. I couldn’t hear him but easily understood his mood. He was not pleased. He threw all my suitcases into the trunk and slammed it shut, then walked back to the driver’s side of the car and got in.

Oh.

I opened the back car door and slid in. The car smelled of cigarettes, evergreen, and cheese. I saw the familiar pine-tree-shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. It appeared to be very old, faded to gray, but obviously still pumping out an obnoxious, not-quite-pine-tree scent.

“Merci,” I said to him.

He grunted, started the car, and pulled away from the curb.

We drove away from the station, and I looked out onto the city. It was modern, with tall, sleek buildings of gray stone next to equally impressive structures that dated back centuries.

“Is the hotel far?” I asked. I spoke again in French. Did he speak English? It didn’t matter. I needed to get back to speed, and quickly.

He shrugged and answered in French, “No. Just in the Old City.”

Ah. I had assumed it to be out of the city, nestled in the countryside, but it certainly made more sense for a hotel to be close to the center of things. The château in my mind was quickly replaced by something more resembling the Plaza in New York—grand front doors opening onto a bustling sidewalk—but on a much more modest scale.

I could live with that. After all, The Fielding Hotel had been right in the heart of the city, all two hundred and twelve rooms of it, along with the bar, two restaurants, and four meeting rooms, which, once opened up, could handle any lavish event with up to four hundred guests.

Hotel Paradis could only accommodate up to forty guests. There was no bar, but breakfast would be served in the salon. A step down, to be sure, but a tiny, boutique hotel deserved the same level of service, and I was up to the task.

We turned a corner, and I knew immediately I was in the Old City. Modern buildings of gray and glass and smooth pavement were replaced by timber frames and cobblestones. The streets were narrow, and café tables crowded the uneven sidewalks. Everything was so old. I could feel it and stared in wonder at a Tommy Hilfiger shop displaying its clothes in windows set into a storefront that dated back centuries.

I had never driven a car in New York City in all the years I had lived there. I could tell that I’d probably never drive a car in Rennes, either. If there was a speed limit, my driver ignored it. If pedestrians had the right of way, they had to fight for it. And where, exactly, were the stop signs?

He suddenly made a sharp turn, pulled up onto the curb just at the corner, threw the Volvo into Park, and got out. I cautiously opened the door.

The street was narrow with tall trees shading the cobblestones. Stone and timber-framed buildings hugged the street as it curved away to the left. A café across from me had a bright red awning and tables crowded against the tall windows, and the smell of garlic and roasted meat made me suddenly remember I hadn’t eaten in hours. The driver had stacked my suitcases on the sidewalk and slammed the trunk. I hurried over to fumble in my purse for money, but he waved me away. He went up to a set of iron gates with a keypad set into the wall. He hit a few numbers, and I heard a distinctive click. He gave me a quick salute, got in his car, and drove off.

I looked up at the iron gates in front of me. They were set into a high stone wall that stretched from the corner, where we had turned in, to around the curve in the road. Above the gates, in rusted letters, were the words Hotel Paradis.

I slowly pushed the gate open and stepped forward.

I was standing in a large courtyard, surrounded by the wall. Directly in front of me was the hotel, large and quite grand, three stories high, and made of gray stone. The front doors were arched and elaborately carved. The facade was perfectly symmetrical, with six tall windows on either side of the entrance, the pattern repeated on the second floor. The attic was slate, peppered with dormers and chimney stacks. There were large cast-iron planters lined up between the windows, but they were empty of any flowers or greenery.

On both the left and right sides of the courtyard were low buildings that looked like they had once been stables. The stone was neatly cut, and on the left, the stable row looked more carefully tended, with multipaned doors and windows where the doors to the stalls once had been. The wooden doors were painted blue, and behind the large windows, I could see pale curtains. The building on the right looked rougher, without modern doors and windows, but instead with the original wide stable doors, padlocked shut.

I walked slowly forward. I felt just like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, alone in front of the von Trapp mansion for the first time. The place was as big as I’d imagined. I’d googled “French hotels” and “French hotel history” and found whole Pinterest boards devoted to drawings and floor plans. I had, of course, pictured them in a different setting, but the building itself did not disappoint. Its condition, though … Were people even living here? Should I just walk in? Was there some sort of doorbell?

The closer I got, the more obvious the neglect became. Ripped fabric hung behind cracked glass, the paint around the windows and doors was chipped and faded, dirt and leaves piled up against the foundation. There was a white cat curled up, asleep, in one of the cast-iron planters. The place was silent.

The double front doors were at least ten feet tall, and there was a large door knocker in the center of each, a fleur-de-lis of pitted brass. Did I knock? And if I did, who would answer? A silent hunchback? A tall, sneering woman dressed in black? An ancient retainer with a limp?

As I stood there, trying to decide if I should just turn around and get the hell outta Dodge, I heard a man’s voice.

“Can I help you?” He came out of one of the doors along the stable row. His voice was low-pitched, and he sounded British. Very British. Hugh Grant British.

“I’m looking for the owner. Claudine Capuçon?” I said. “Is she here?” I glanced over my shoulder, unsure about all my earthly possessions sitting on the sidewalk on the other side of the wall.

“Are you Lucia? We’ve been waiting for you.” He was tall and rather thin, in wrinkled khaki pants and a denim shirt. “Did Georges just drop you here? Where’s your luggage? God, he’s so rude.”

He hurried out onto the street. It took him three trips to bring my suitcases into the courtyard. Obviously, he wasn’t as used to throwing luggage around as Georges had been.

“Where’s Claudine?” I asked. My throat was suddenly closed as all my high hopes and great expectations began to slip away. I had envisioned a luxury boutique hotel that just needed a few nudges to bring it full swing into the high-tech, find-on-the-internet world of hospitality in the twenty-first century. This place looked like it hadn’t made it much past the 1800s.

“I’m Colin, by the way. Colin Harding. I live here.” He held out his hand, and I shook it, numb.

“Live here? Do you work at the hotel?”

“What? Oh, no. I just live here. Full-time. Six of us do, not counting Claudine. You’ll meet everyone soon enough, I expect. Well, let’s get your things into your appart.”

He grabbed the handle of the largest suitcase and began to drag it across the courtyard, down toward the stable row.

“Appart?” I took hold of another suitcase and followed him. “I was told I’d have the manager’s apartment.”

“Yes, well, apartment. Here it’s an appartement. Appart for short. You can call it that.” He stopped at a closed door in the middle of the row and pushed it open with his foot. “You must have packed up your entire life in this suitcase. It weighs a ton. Did you have to pay the airline extra? I bet you did.” He dropped it with a flourish. “Well, here you are. Look around, and I’ll be back with the rest of your stuff.”

The space was narrow and deep, the only light coming in from the glass panes of the doorway. I dropped the suitcase and carry-on to the floor and clutched my purse to my chest. The room was about ten feet wide and maybe twice as deep, with smooth plaster walls that had been painted a creamy white. The floor was wide-plank, very dark and very old wood, the ceiling low with blackened, exposed beams. At the far end, small paned windows were set high on the wall, and below them was what I assumed to be a kitchen: a white farmer’s sink propped up on four elaborately carved legs and a tiny stove with an oven that looked just about right for baking one small cake. A single light fixture, possibly brass, hung over the sink. The room was empty of furniture except for a table pushed against the wall and two wooden chairs. I realized it was probably my imagination, but I could have sworn the place smelled of horse.

I took a few steps in. There was an open archway cut through the foot-thick walls to the next room, the bedroom. There was an iron bedstead near the floor-to-ceiling windows piled high with pillows, folded sheets, and a faded quilt. There was also a tall wardrobe, and when I opened it, I saw that this was my closet space. There was a standing lamp by the bed, but no dresser. The bathroom was tucked into the back, with the same row of high-set windows, a claw-foot tub, a toilet, and a sink, all scrubbed clean and smelling faintly of lemon.

At The Fielding, I’d had a suite of rooms on the top floor. We never called it the penthouse. That term had been reserved for the guest suites on the top floor. Two rooms and a bath, just like this, but overlooking Fifty-second Street. If I’d faced north, I could see Central Park. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in the view, the bathroom had a walk-in shower the size of most people’s cars, and someone came in every day to clean the place up and refresh the vases of cut flowers.

I had, in the eight years I’d lived at The Fielding, replaced most of the standard-issue hotel furniture (not that it was in any way shabby—oh, no, they were top-of-line furnishings) with my own, preferred style of decoration: antiques in soft woods, watercolors on the walls, gleaming brass and copper reflecting the glow of neon coming from the street below. When the FBI closed in, every single item in the hotel was considered evidence, and after eighteen months in court, the only things I could claim as my possessions were the clothes in the closet and personal photographs I could prove were of family members.

Note to self: Save the receipts for everything.

So, when Colin had joked about my entire life being in my suitcases, he’d been right.

As he came through the front with the other suitcase full of the only things I legally owned in the world, I turned to him, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. “This is where I’m supposed to live?”

I didn’t do a very good job in the quelling-panic department, because his face twisted.

“Oh, now, really. It’s not too terrible. It’s very comfortable in the summer. The thick walls keep the place cool, and it’s easy to heat in the winter. I know it looks a bit small, but you really won’t be spending much time here, right? You’ll be at the hotel most of the time, tending to the rooms, and—”

“What? What do you mean?” I asked slowly. “Tending to the rooms? I’m the manager. Where’s Claudine? I think there’s been something of a misunderstanding somewhere.”

“Claudine is at work. She’ll be home around six. That’s…” He glanced at his watch. “Three hours. Listen, would you like something to eat? Stavros across the street has excellent food, and I should, well, maybe I should explain a few things to you.”

I stepped out into the courtyard and looked up at the hotel. “How many guests right now?”

“Now? Well, just the six of us.”

“You mean the six of you who live here? Are there no paying guests?”

He drew himself up. “We are all paying guests.”

“Yes. Of course. I meant … transient guests?”

“None. We couldn’t accommodate a stray cat right now. Besides, no one knows who we are yet. You can’t even google us. That’s why you’re here, right? To put us on the tourist map?”

“But this is a hotel?”

“Yes. For over two hundred years, but since the war, it’s just been, well, this.”

“Since … the war? You mean, like, since the forties?”

“The late thirties. Lucia, how about some food? And wine. I bet you could really use a glass of wine. It will make you feel so much better.”

“Yes. And it’s Lucy. Please.” I followed him across the courtyard, through the large metal gate, and across the cobblestones, thinking there was not enough wine in the world.


Sitting down at the window, the sun blocked by the bright red awning with a glass of wine in front of me, I did feel so much better. It was possible that, somehow, I had gotten the wrong idea of what the Hotel Paradis was and where it wanted to go, but I was sure everything was just a slight misunderstanding. I sipped the wine while Colin spoke to the smiling waiter. His French was fluent, but even to my untutored ear, his accent was atrocious.

The wine slid down my throat like honey, smooth and soothing. I closed my eyes and took a bigger sip. Well, gulp. When I opened my eyes, Colin was looking at me intently.

“Makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it?” He was an attractive man with a thin face, wrinkles around his bright blue eyes, and fair hair that flopped across his forehead.

I nodded. “Yes. Thank you. You seem to know an awful lot about what’s supposed to be going on with me and Claudine.”

“Well, yes. I did all the correspondence, you see. Claudine doesn’t speak English.”

I tilted my head. “She doesn’t speak English? At all?”

He nodded. “She understands a bit. Well, she understands a lot, but as for actually speaking, not to mention reading and writing, no. English is a very complicated language.”

“But I thought that in Europe, everyone spoke everything. Or almost.”

He spoke reasonably. “She speaks Spanish, Russian, Croatian, and Portuguese. She understands a bit of Italian and English. How many languages do you speak?”

Touché. “Italian. French. And a little Spanish.” Italian because that was what my parents spoke at home. My very little Spanish was a hybrid learned over the years from my Central American housekeeping staff and Cuban kitchen workers. “She speaks no English. Well. So, you wrote all the emails? And the contract?”

“Not the contract. She had the lawyer do that. But as for the emails … yes, I sent them. Claudine’s words, of course.” He shrugged again and smiled.

“But…” Those emails had sold me on taking the job. True, it had been the only offer of employment I’d gotten since my rather abrupt and disgraceful departure from Fielding Hospitality Enterprises Inc. “This is not what I expected.”

“And what did you expect?”

Should I mention the château and Bentley? My mind circled back to that very first email introducing me to Hotel Paradis and the city of Rennes. “Has it really been family-owned for centuries?”

He nodded. “Yes. The Perrot family. A fire wiped out half the city in the 1720s, and the estate burned to the ground. The house was rebuilt around 1740. In the early 1800s, it was decided to convert the place to a hotel. The remodel took almost five years, I believe. The stables were built about the same time. They were converted to flats in the twenties. For the staff.”

“Is that where you all live now? You full-timers?”

He nodded. “Yes. And we’ll continue to stay there. The only rooms that are going to be rented out are in the hotel proper. I hope you have lots of ideas.”

I did have ideas. Tons of them. Most of them were about noodling around on a brand-new website and uploading photographs of grand, beautiful rooms filled with antique beds and gauzy white curtains framing a pastoral view. “About those rooms. In the actual hotel. How many of those are rentable?”

“You mean, right now? None of them. Unless you can convince Claudine to give up her rooms. Bing is living in the attic, so that’s pretty well furnished, but getting him to move would require an act of God.”

A steaming bowl of soup was placed in front of me with bits of potato and leek swimming in a pale, creamy broth. A basket of bread appeared, and as the waiter withdrew his hand, I grabbed it. “More wine, please?” I stared at the soup, trying to find something positive to latch on to. “Bing?”

“David Bingham. Rather a brash sort of fellow. He’s a writer, kids’ stuff. Been living here since the nineties. He and Claudine have a history.… Ah, Stavros, excellent soup, as always. This is Lucy Gianetti. She’s the one who’s going to turn the hotel around. Lucy, this is Stavros Collard. He owns this café and is also a partner in the hotel.”

I stared at Colin. “A partner?”

“Well, of course. Claudine had to raise the money somehow. Stavros is a partner, as is Georges. They not only put up cash, they are part of the enterprise. Georges will provide all the transportation for guests to and from the train station. Stavros here will oversee the hotel kitchen.”

I looked up.

Stavros Collard was tall, well over six feet, with broad shoulders and muscular arms practically bursting out of a pale blue T-shirt. His hair was thick and curled around his head like lamb’s wool, gray and wiry. “We are all counting on you,” he said in perfect English with barely an accent. “We have put our hopes in the hotel, and Andre assured us that you were the one to turn the old beauty around for us.”

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Collard.”

He took my hand and squeezed briefly. “Stavros. Please. After all, we will be seeing each other every day, no? Unless you want to share your meals with Claudine, and I can tell you, for a Frenchwoman she is a terrible cook. No, you will eat here, and we will become friends.” His teeth were small and even as he smiled.

“Of course,” I said faintly. He bobbed his head and backed away, and I looked down at my soup again. I took a spoonful, then another. It was delicious, and I found my strength growing with every swallow.

“By Andre, did he mean Andre Mollner?” I asked.

Colin nodded.

Andre Mollner had been a long-standing client of my lawyer’s, and that’s how he’d gotten my number. He’d called me out of nowhere and introduced himself by saying that he’d found the perfect job for me. The man insisted that no one in Rennes cared about what happened at The Fielding and that I would be welcomed with open arms.

Well, naturally they’d welcome me. I was probably the only one they could find who would take a job at a hotel without ever setting foot on the property, because if I had …

“Okay, Colin. I’m curious. Why did you hire me? Exactly?”

“Well, to be honest, we almost didn’t. Here in Europe, to hire someone who is not a citizen of the EU for a job … well, you need a very good reason. But Claudine wanted someone who knew the American market, who would know what to say and do to attract American tourists. And someone who could design a website that catered to American tastes. She also wanted someone who did not have an accent, since she spoke no English at all. Hiring you was a lot of work. We were lucky that Andre recommended you. He knew of your, ah, situation, and, well…”

“And that I couldn’t find a decent job anywhere in the US, so I had to take whatever crumbs got thrown my way?”

“Nonsense. Andre told us you had been completely innocent in the Fielding matter. He also insisted that you had been responsible for making The Fielding Hotel the talk of New York City. Why wouldn’t we want that kind of expertise here?”

Man, he was good. “Claudine knew Andre how?”

“I have no idea. The woman has relations all over the world. Second cousin? On her ex-husband’s side?”

“And all the investors you mentioned … Stavros and Georges?” I asked Colin.

“Yes. Also, Bing put up some money. So did I, for that matter. And Raoul, he is a carpenter. He didn’t put up any cash, but he will be doing the renovations for us.”

I ate more soup. “I see. You made it sound like there were a couple of billionaires who needed a bit of something to dabble in during their spare time.” And I had envisioned having cocktails with those same French billionaires, sipping a martini on a terrace. Instead, I’d be eating soup and getting free rides in a Volvo.

“You also said—”

“Claudine said,” Colin corrected. “I just translated, remember?”

I looked at him. “But what you translated wasn’t the truth.”

He drew back, looking hurt and surprised. “Of course it was the truth. I dare you to find one word I wrote that wasn’t one hundred percent true. Go on.”

I knew if I opened my laptop that very minute and went through every one of the twenty-seven emails that went back and forth between myself and Claudine Capuçon, he’d be right. He hadn’t lied. He hadn’t even shaded a single line. It was my own imagination, running wild at the idea of starting my career over as the manager of a small hotel a few hours away from Paris, that had colored every single word he had written.

Another plate was set before me. Beef and mushrooms in a gravy that smelled of herbs and red wine. I broke off a bit of bread and dipped it in, then put it in my mouth and chewed slowly.

Heaven.

Well, I was here. I had a place to live until the fall, and I had a salary. Not much of one, to be sure, but I didn’t have to worry about rent. With my visa, I had health care paid for after three months, and if I could eat food like this every day, how bad would it be?

Besides, where else was I going to go?

LUCY CHECKS IN. Copyright © 2022 by Elizabeth Ernst.