Four years ago, Calvin took me to Paris for our fifth anniversary. He’d lived there for a year decades before we met, during which time he’d taken a sabbatical from teaching to live in the City of Light, writing at sidewalk cafés and absorbing French culture. He wanted to show me where his soul came to life.
During our two-weeks there, we walked the streets of the Left Bank, espresso machines hissing, champagne corks popping, Parisians arguing politics and literature, and aromas of baked breads wafting out onto the busy sidewalks. It was a feast for the senses. I fell in love with the city, taking pictures of everything.
We took a day to tour the Louvre, not nearly long enough. Even so, we saw many exhibits. Again, I took lots and lots of pictures. Finally, we entered the Salon Carré where the most famous painting in the museum hangs in a bullet-proof glass enclosure. The salon was full of people, and slowly I worked my way through the crowd to get close enough to snap a picture.
No sooner had I lifted my camera when a security guard tapped me on the shoulder and spoke to me in French and English that photographing the masterpiece was not allowed. I voiced my displeasure. He backed me up a couple steps with his attitude. And…grandma backed down.
Little did I know, two years later I’d use this experience as the opening scene for my romantic suspense, Mona Lisa’s Room.
A grim-faced guard stepped in front of Alyson Moore when she raised her camera to take a picture. “Madame, in the Louvre, we do not photograph the Mona Lisa.” His lips fashioned a thin line of disapproval.
Alyson’s eyes scanned the crowd, for even as the security guard admonished her, scores of other tourists, their arms upraised, used cell phones to snap photos. “Am I the only one trying to take a picture here?” Without waiting for a reply, she pocketed her camera, and the snippy guard moved on.
She shouldered her way through the early morning crowd in the Salon Carrẻ to get a closer look at the painting encased in bullet-proof glass. Seeing Da Vinci’s masterpiece was a long-held dream come true. No one, not even an overzealous guard, would spoil her time with Mona.
Once the museum opened its doors at nine sharp, and Alyson passed through security, she hurried to see this woman of mystery. The throngs of people already crowding the room surprised her.
She slipped between two men and stepped closer to the leading lady of the gallery. Her nose twitched from the sweet and sour blitz of assorted perfumes and various degrees of hygiene. Murmurings of adulation echoed off the gallery walls as if the Mona Lisa were a five-hundred-year-old rock star. How had one painting achieved such stardom?
If the ever-present guard wouldn’t allow photographs, she’d sketch some of Mona’s fans standing, spellbound by her enigmatic smile. When she finally tugged her large sketchpad free from the tight confines of her yellow leather bag, other items fell and scattered.
Alyson crouched to retrieve pieces of charcoal, just as the man standing next to her bent to place a black shoulder bag, the style European men were so fond of carrying, on the marble tile floor.
Their eyes locked.
“Excuse me, you’re standing on my things.” Alyson pointed to his shoe. The man, face damp with perspiration, scowled, raised his foot and snatched her navy scarf, hotel keycard and passport, crushing them into a ball. He stuffed the wadded scarf into her outstretched hand and stood.
Alyson reached, fingering for the last charcoal pencil that rolled beyond her reach. She straightened and realized the man was walking away. “Sir. Sir, you’ve forgotten your bag. Monsieur.”
He didn’t respond.
She called after him again.
The man disappeared into the crowd.
The museum guard approached. “Is there a problem, Madame?”
“Yes, that man left his shoulder bag here.” Alyson indicated the canvas bag on the floor. “He set it down at the same time I dropped some things.” She held out her navy scarf to show the guard and suddenly it hit her. “My hotel key and passport!” Pulling apart the sides of her shoulder bag, she rummaged through its contents, hoping against hope they were there. With her passport the same shade as her scarf, she assumed it was wrapped in the scarf’s folds. “He took my keycard and passport. I don’t believe this. Why would he take my things and leave his bag behind?”
The guard’s eyes widened for a second. “Madame, you are sure the man left this bag?” He snapped his cell from his belt, a scowling gaze intent on Alyson.
“Yes. He…he was setting it on the floor at the same time I squatted to retrieve my fallen items. I asked him to move his foot since he was standing on my scarf, keycard and passport.” Alyson groaned as realization sunk in. She was in a foreign country with no passport. Oh, hell!
The guard cautiously unzipped the shoulder bag. Yellow wires. The man spoke rapid-fire French into his cell. Pandemonium erupted. Armed guards rushed toward the abandoned black bag. Once the word “bomb” was uttered, visitors screamed as they stampeded from Mona Lisa’s room.
Suddenly, Alyson stood in the eerie deafening silence with only the pounding of her heart and the cocking of guns reverberating in her ears—she and the black bag containing explosives surrounded by eight armed guards.
You won’t believe this email. I’m sitting in a French safe house, eating caviar and drinking champagne with a handsome government agent, Niko Reynard. He’s wearing nothing but silk pajama bottoms and mega doses of sex appeal. I’m in big trouble, little sister. He’s kissed me several times and given me a foot massage that nearly caused spontaneous combustion. I’m feeling strangely virginal compared to the sexual prowess this thirty-year-old man exudes.
When I came to Paris for a bit of adventure, I never imagined I’d foil a bombing attempt, karate-kick two men, and run from terrorists while wearing a new pair of stilettos. I’ve met a German musician, a gay poet from Australia, and the most delightful older French woman.
Don’t worry. I’m safe–the jury’s still out on yummy Niko, though. The more champagne I drink, the less reserved I feel. What an unforgettable fortieth birthday!
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AMAZON (eBook) — http://bit.ly/MonaLisasRoomeBook
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Vonnie’s giving away an eCopy of her book to one lucky poster! Get on it! And thanks for being here today, Vonnie!