He taught her the ways of love, but he didn’t know how to love.
Beatrice, fresh from university, is determined to become a writer, but her sheltered life in 1950s England, as a vicar’s daughter, ill-equips her emotionally to become one. She decides, just ten years after a major world war has ravaged Europe, to travel alone around the continent, to not only discover a life outside her protected bubble, but to discover herself.
Arriving in France in 1955, she meets Sabine, a beautiful, older French woman and her lover, Charles, an Englishman, a French resident for many years. Both Charles and Sabine are captivated by the beautiful, but naïve and sexually innocent English girl, and Beatrice is willingly drawn into a three-way steamy love affair with the two.
But Charles, although charismatic, is sometimes moody and melancholic—a relic from his dysfunctional childhood. He falls desperately in love with Beatrice—with tempestuous results. When all seems lost, and Beatrice is in despair, help reaches her from an unexpected source. Will another man, waiting in the wings, help her to pick up the pieces of her fractured life?
This steamy love affair has an emotional centre that will tug at your heart—and other parts too, as Beatrice travels from innocence to maturity in just a few, short months. But will she achieve her dream of becoming a writer? Or will she return home with a damaged heart?
Due for publication on March 22. Special pre-order price 99c
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I leaned against the ship’s railing on that sunny August morning, watching as the white cliffs of Dover receded from view. The lump in my stomach had been there all day, yet hadn’t stopped me from boarding the ferry for Calais at mid-day. The Second World War had now been over for ten years. Yet I was still nervous about what I would find when I stepped on to French soil for the first time. Would there be terrible damage from the bombs? Would the language barrier make travelling difficult for me? I knew some schoolgirl French, but I wasn’t sure if that would be enough.
I looked up and caught the gaze of a middle-aged woman standing a few feet away.
“First time abroad, dear?”
I paused for a moment, unwilling to reveal my complete lack of experience. Finally, I turned and gave a half smile.
“Yes. Yes, it is. Does it show?”
“It was just the wistful look you gave at the sight of the Dover cliffs. Made me wonder if you were a bit nervous about leaving home, dear.”
I smiled, but didn’t answer—not wanting to get into conversation, but be alone with my thoughts. The woman turned back towards her companion.
Was it so obvious that I was utterly inexperienced in the ways of the world? Oxford had been such a bubble—cut off from reality. Mixing with academics and fellow students, reading, reading, reading, writing essays—it all seemed to take place in a secret world where the real world rarely intruded. Then back home to the vicarage for a month, feeling as though I no longer belonged to my previous life. My friends and family had not changed, but I had. I suppose many people leave university planning to experience the world of their dreams—perhaps some make it, but many drop back into the safe and comfortable existence they had known until then. I was determined to be among those who reach the life they dreamed about—had dreamed about since childhood in fact—or I would die in the attempt.
I’d always known I wanted more than the life into which I was born. Safety, security, and predictability—they were not for me. I wanted to grab life with both hands, experience everything that was offered and eventually to write about it. The thought was both exciting and terrifying.
I walked a little further along the deck and resolutely turned my eyes away from the receding cliffs and towards the open Channel, determined to look forward to the future. The screeching seagulls that had followed the ferry since we left Dover began to diminish in number as they headed back to port. Part of me desperately wanted to do the same. But the brave part of me—that which had kept me determined about my goals—was still dominant.
“But darling, what will you do on your own over there?” My mother had found it impossible to understand why I, or anyone she knew, would want to drift off into the unknown, with no destination in mind and no obvious ambition, other than to travel and experience life.
From innocence to maturity, in a few passionate months
Finally, dinner was over. My nerves were becoming more and more shredded as each moment passed, before what I knew was going to be the most momentous event of my young life. Would I make a fool of myself? Suppose I began to giggle with nerves. How I envied Sabine’s sophisticated manner. Nothing seemed to make her nervous.
It was Sabine who made the first move. She rose from the table and took my hand.
“Come, Beatrice, let’s go in the other room and dance. I love to dance.”
She led me into the salon, and Charles followed, carrying the painting, which he set down on the elegant sofa. He walked over to an old gramophone that had seen better days and picked up some discs, selecting one and placing it on the turntable. The unmistakeable voice of Edith Piaf filled the room with “L’Hymne á l’amour”, which I recognized from my short stay in Paris. I’d heard it at one of the many cafes on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which I’d frequented during my stay in the capital. I went there knowing that some great French writers had worked at these tables in the past. Perhaps I felt that their talent could be absorbed through my skin in such hallowed surroundings?
Seeing Sabine kick off her heels, I followed suit. The floor was wooden parquet, once highly polished, but now looking somewhat neglected. Sabine held out her hand and gently pulled me towards her and we began a slow dance together. Charles sat on one of the Louis Quinze reproduction sofas, his arm slung casually over the back, watched us intently. He’d removed his jacket and shoes, and looked relaxed. I trembled deep inside and was sure that Sabine would sense this. But she continued dancing, drawing me into her chest so I could feel her perfect breasts move up and down with each breath she took. I’d never been so close to another woman before, but somehow it felt completely natural.
I didn’t know what to do, or how to behave. Should I move my hand along her arm? I was such a novice at all this. I didn’t need to worry. Sabine knew exactly what to do. She bent her face closer to mine and kissed me gently on the lips. My first intimate kiss—and it was from a woman. Did this mean I was now a lesbian? I’d heard the word at university, used to describe a female lecturer who had an affair with one of the students, and was dismissed from the college. I ceased to think about anything, however, as Sabine kissed me again—this time more firmly, her soft, luscious lips pressed hard against mine. I felt a little giddy, and it wasn’t just because of the amount of wine I’d consumed. I felt wicked, deliciously wicked. Was I now condemned to a descent into Hell, as my father might have described it? I didn’t know, and what’s more, I didn’t care.
As her lips eventually released mine, I looked over at Charles, who had a half smile on his face, as one hand lazily moved up and down in his groin area. Was he pleasuring himself? I didn’t even know if that was the correct word for such an action. I smiled at him, which seemed to make him happy.