Today's Reading

SEVERINE

CHAPTER ONE

Paris, 1983

Lilacs, rain, a hint of bitter chocolate: Stella sniffed the air as she entered the small shop, enjoying the soft golden light that enfolded her. A bell pealed, an old-fashioned sound that gave her the oddest feeling, as if she had stepped off the Paris sidewalk and straight out of time.

A curious old woman, whose beautifully manicured hands contrasted with her severe haircut and drab dress, was seated at a small oak table, wearing a smile that looked simultaneously reluctant and triumphant. Cat, Stella thought, canary.

At the sight of Stella, the woman's face lit up and she leapt from her seat. "I have been waiting for you." Her voice was deep, gravelly, the words emerging as if rusted from disuse. "What took you so long?" Her reproachful tone implied that Stella was shamefully late for an important appointment.

Stella was stunned. Perhaps the woman had confused her with someone else. Maybe she was crazy. Stella backed toward the door, reaching for the knob. But when the woman cried "Stop!" her voice was so imperious that Stella obeyed. The two stood for a moment, eyeing each other.

It was Stella's first day in Paris. She'd stumbled blearily through the morning streets, jet-lagged and wishing she hadn't come. The remaining days of her trip stretched before her, a vast uncharted landscape. What would she do with herself, alone in this unfamiliar city? Back in her apartment in New York she'd done her homework, walking her fingers across maps of Paris so she'd know her way around. But now, traversing actual Paris streets, she felt disquieted. Leaving the quaint hotel in the Latin Quarter, she'd tried to shake anxiety off by joining the stream of tourists crossing the Seine.

She had passed Notre-Dame—one day she'd go inside—and recited the name of each bridge as she crossed it. Yet despite her preparation she felt like an alien. She didn't understand the language. She knew nobody. What was she doing here?

Heading to the Place des Vosges, she'd wondered if it would be as lovely as the guidebooks promised. "Le Pavillon de la Reine," she had whispered to herself, as she began circumnavigating the ancient square. The stones seemed to be breathing ancient air, she thought as she surveyed the orderly little park with its tidy fountain. When she ducked into the arcade, she spotted a shop with Robes des Rêves etched in gold across the antique glass and stopped to study the ornate letters. There was a single dress in the window, waves of fabric in the most extraordinary shade of violet. Velvet? It looked so soft that Stella had longed to touch it. She had opened the door.

Now the proprietress was staring at her with that peculiarly Parisian arrogance. Her rudeness made Stella so uncomfortable she looked away, eyes darting around the shop. The walls, thickly layered with vintage garments, turned the crowded space into a time machine, as if the city's entire history were spelled out in chiffon, linen, silk, and lace. Her eye fell on an austere wartime uniform standing stiffly at attention and moved on to a Pucci pantsuit in colors so exuberant she imagined it leaping from the hanger and boogying out the door. The woman simply watched, saying nothing. The small white dog at her side was equally alert. The silence stretched, uncomfortable.

'What did I do?' Stella thought, convinced, as usual, that she had done something wrong. She stood hesitating for a moment, then headed toward the violet dress in the window, brushing past an Edwardian lace-trimmed peignoir, a bugle-beaded flapper dress, a silk shawl the color of dawn. She reached to touch the dress.

"Stop!" the woman cried again.

Stella jumped away, put her hands behind her back, apologized. "I'm sorry." She could see, up close, that the antique dress was very frail.

"We have been waiting." The words were even more reproachful now, almost angry.

"I'm sorry?" This time it was a question.

"We have been waiting for you." The woman repeated the words, louder and slower, as if volume could compensate for vocabulary. Then, with a contemptuous look—clearly she thought Stella impossibly stupid— and an impatient wave of her hand, she vanished into a back room. The dog sat, body quivering, ears pricked, eyes on Stella, daring her to move. Stella stood very still. An eternity passed before the woman returned, balancing a long flat box on outstretched arms.

"Come!" She gestured imperiously. When Stella did not move, the woman set the box down, took her hand, and began towing her inexorably toward a curtained area in the corner of the room. The little dog followed, nosing the box forward along the floor.

...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...

Read Book

Today's Reading

SEVERINE

CHAPTER ONE

Paris, 1983

Lilacs, rain, a hint of bitter chocolate: Stella sniffed the air as she entered the small shop, enjoying the soft golden light that enfolded her. A bell pealed, an old-fashioned sound that gave her the oddest feeling, as if she had stepped off the Paris sidewalk and straight out of time.

A curious old woman, whose beautifully manicured hands contrasted with her severe haircut and drab dress, was seated at a small oak table, wearing a smile that looked simultaneously reluctant and triumphant. Cat, Stella thought, canary.

At the sight of Stella, the woman's face lit up and she leapt from her seat. "I have been waiting for you." Her voice was deep, gravelly, the words emerging as if rusted from disuse. "What took you so long?" Her reproachful tone implied that Stella was shamefully late for an important appointment.

Stella was stunned. Perhaps the woman had confused her with someone else. Maybe she was crazy. Stella backed toward the door, reaching for the knob. But when the woman cried "Stop!" her voice was so imperious that Stella obeyed. The two stood for a moment, eyeing each other.

It was Stella's first day in Paris. She'd stumbled blearily through the morning streets, jet-lagged and wishing she hadn't come. The remaining days of her trip stretched before her, a vast uncharted landscape. What would she do with herself, alone in this unfamiliar city? Back in her apartment in New York she'd done her homework, walking her fingers across maps of Paris so she'd know her way around. But now, traversing actual Paris streets, she felt disquieted. Leaving the quaint hotel in the Latin Quarter, she'd tried to shake anxiety off by joining the stream of tourists crossing the Seine.

She had passed Notre-Dame—one day she'd go inside—and recited the name of each bridge as she crossed it. Yet despite her preparation she felt like an alien. She didn't understand the language. She knew nobody. What was she doing here?

Heading to the Place des Vosges, she'd wondered if it would be as lovely as the guidebooks promised. "Le Pavillon de la Reine," she had whispered to herself, as she began circumnavigating the ancient square. The stones seemed to be breathing ancient air, she thought as she surveyed the orderly little park with its tidy fountain. When she ducked into the arcade, she spotted a shop with Robes des Rêves etched in gold across the antique glass and stopped to study the ornate letters. There was a single dress in the window, waves of fabric in the most extraordinary shade of violet. Velvet? It looked so soft that Stella had longed to touch it. She had opened the door.

Now the proprietress was staring at her with that peculiarly Parisian arrogance. Her rudeness made Stella so uncomfortable she looked away, eyes darting around the shop. The walls, thickly layered with vintage garments, turned the crowded space into a time machine, as if the city's entire history were spelled out in chiffon, linen, silk, and lace. Her eye fell on an austere wartime uniform standing stiffly at attention and moved on to a Pucci pantsuit in colors so exuberant she imagined it leaping from the hanger and boogying out the door. The woman simply watched, saying nothing. The small white dog at her side was equally alert. The silence stretched, uncomfortable.

'What did I do?' Stella thought, convinced, as usual, that she had done something wrong. She stood hesitating for a moment, then headed toward the violet dress in the window, brushing past an Edwardian lace-trimmed peignoir, a bugle-beaded flapper dress, a silk shawl the color of dawn. She reached to touch the dress.

"Stop!" the woman cried again.

Stella jumped away, put her hands behind her back, apologized. "I'm sorry." She could see, up close, that the antique dress was very frail.

"We have been waiting." The words were even more reproachful now, almost angry.

"I'm sorry?" This time it was a question.

"We have been waiting for you." The woman repeated the words, louder and slower, as if volume could compensate for vocabulary. Then, with a contemptuous look—clearly she thought Stella impossibly stupid— and an impatient wave of her hand, she vanished into a back room. The dog sat, body quivering, ears pricked, eyes on Stella, daring her to move. Stella stood very still. An eternity passed before the woman returned, balancing a long flat box on outstretched arms.

"Come!" She gestured imperiously. When Stella did not move, the woman set the box down, took her hand, and began towing her inexorably toward a curtained area in the corner of the room. The little dog followed, nosing the box forward along the floor.

...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...