Our Land of Beyond — Sample

Paris, 1921

Winnie Barnes

Linley Talbot-Martin was forbidden to set foot in France. Yet no one batted an eye when the Marchioness of Kyre held out her traveling papers to be stamped.

A sudden and convenient forgetfulness on the part of the French government was one of many privileges extended to Her Ladyship. She was an English peeress, after all. Not to mention the wife of a war hero. To hold such a woman accountable for the theft of certain priceless artifacts now seemed rather petty.

She certainly did not blame them for banning her from their lovely little country. The Talbot-Martin team had, in fact, stolen the crates nearly ten years ago in a Moroccan desert, and the contents currently lined a tidy wall in a corner of the British Museum. Her father had been granted a knighthood for it, while those double-crossing frog archaeologists went home empty handed.

She wasn’t sorry, but it had made her life more difficult. Or, rather, it had made her Continental holiday more stressful than she’d planned. But all that was over now. She tucked her paperwork into her coat pocket and followed her husband out onto the cobblestoned Rue de Dunkerque.

“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” Patrick said, frowning back at her. “First Calais, now this. We should have stayed home.”

Linley ‘accidentally’ cracked him in the shin with the corner of her leather valise. “Don’t blame me. I know you’re put out about Sam Cartogan, and I won’t have you ruining my trip.”

“I couldn’t care less about Cartogan, darling, but you know how I feel about the French.”

“After all the time you spent here during the war, I’d think you’d have reconciled your prejudice by now,” she said. “This isn’t stuffy old France of the Belle Époque. This is a bright, new era. Take their clemency toward me for example—they should have carted me off in irons, but here we are in the grandest city in the world.”

Patrick glanced up and down the street, taking in the traffic, and the shops, and the wrought-iron terraces above. He was about to argue that point, but before he could open his mouth, Linley stepped to the kerb and flagged down a taxi.

As one screeched to a halt beside her, she turned to Patrick and said, “You don’t have to deal with Sam for another week. That leaves us plenty of time to enjoy Paris. Now get in!”

He tossed their luggage up onto the rack and climbed in the rear of the motorcar. When he’d settled onto the springy leather seat, Linley jumped in beside him and slammed the door.

Aller à Boulevard Raspail, s’il vous plait.

At her direction, the driver grinded the motorcar into gear and pulled into traffic. Linley visited Paris a few times as a girl, but seeing the city through the eyes of an adult proved to be an altogether different experience. She wasn’t sure if it was marriage or the war that had changed her perspective, but the atmosphere now seemed sexually charged. Couples seated at an outdoor café kissed and touched without a care as to who saw. Next to them in traffic, a woman stroked the ears of a white Borzoi dog in the backseat of a Hispano-Suiza limousine, while a gentleman twice her age ran a fingertip up and down her jeweled throat.

One never saw that in London. Or perhaps no one had ever taken Linley to places in London where she might see such things. It was a city after all—surely it too had its vices.

“Paris makes London seem so drab.”

Patrick peered out the window on his side of the taxi. “The buildings are stunning, I’ll give it that. And the streets are spacious. Everything feels so…open.”

“So free.”

He looked at her. “Why would you say that?”

“I bet I could crawl onto your lap and make love to you right here and now, and no one would look twice at us.”

“Oh, they’d look, darling.” Patrick grinned. “But by comparison, I wouldn’t call the good people of London repressed. I’d say they were better behaved.”

The motorcar turned onto Boulevard Haussmann, passing the Galeries Lafayette and the rear façade of the famous Opera House. Parisians here hurried about their day, rushing along the pavements or scurrying up from the Metro. They were better dressed than their English counterparts. And seemed happier to walk in the fresh, brisk autumn air rather than choking on coal smoke and fog.

Linley turned and smiled at him. “You’re a good sport about this Sam business. Most husbands wouldn’t tolerate a trip to Constantinople to visit their wife’s almost-lover.”

“Sam is a decent chap.” Patrick leaned over and draped his arm around her shoulders. “And he is your friend. Despite what happened in Cairo, I know you’d never do anything untoward.”

She eased back into his embrace. “It will be nice to see him, but I’m most looking forward to spending time with you. Now that the book is finished, I have nothing to do but make up for all the times I’ve neglected you while writing it.”

“Have anything special in mind?”

“I thought we’d go dancing to start. A little champagne, a little jazz…”

“And here I was thinking of a quiet night in,” he said.

Linley frowned. “We’ll be stuck on a train for days, Patrick. There will be plenty of time for quiet nights. But we’re only in Paris for a little while. Why not make the most of it?”

The little taxi melted in with the flow of traffic through the Place de la Concorde. They passed the twin fountains and the Luxor obelisk—the latter brought from Egypt a century ago.

“That used to stand at the Temple of Luxor,” Linley said, tapping on the window glass. “There were two of them, actually. The other is still there.”

“Different from the one on the Embankment?”

“London’s needle is from Alexandria,” she explained. “This one had to be ferried all the way up the Nile before it even reached Alexandria—quite a feat all those years ago.”

They left the Place de la Concorde and crossed the Seine. The motorcar now traveled down the tree-lined Boulevard Saint-Germain. Cafés and flower shops lined both sides of the wide street, and pedestrians strolled arm in arm. There were no cabbies yelling or horses fussing in their traces. No angry Bobbies blowing whistles. In fact, no one there seemed in a hurry to be anywhere else.

That was Paris, Linley supposed—the greatest city in the world because its people genuinely believed it to be the single greatest city in the entirety of the world.

The driver veered off Saint-Germain onto Boulevard Raspail and, after a few minutes, pulled to a stop in front of their hotel. Though not in the fashionable part of the city, it sat on the corner of a busy intersection directly across from a small park and a Metro station. Thankfully, it was no more than a few minutes from everything Paris had to offer and far cheaper than its competition on the other side of the Seine.

Patrick climbed out of the motorcar and offered Linley his hand. “It isn’t the Crillon, but I suppose it will do.”

She stepped onto the kerb. “Reginald recommended it. He did say it was popular with the artistic types, but they mostly kept to themselves.”

“What a pity. If you ever wanted your portrait painted in garish, primary-colored smears, this might be your chance.”

Linley laughed and tossed him his bags. “We could hang it over the mantel in the dining room—a perfect opportunity to replace that tired old Van Dyck.”

He caught the bags with ease. “You’d have to replace me first.”

“That could be arranged,” she said, giving him a playful nudge.

They walked through the doors of the hotel and into the foyer. It was a dark-paneled space with a low, barrel vaulted ceiling that somehow reminded her of a wine cellar, yet a quick glance around showed marble accents, painted plasterwork, and a very imposing chandelier dangling just overhead.

While Patrick signed in at the desk, Linley watched an elderly couple exit a nearby lift. She noticed there was no operator to open and close the doors as passengers disembarked. Curiosity led her to the gleaming paneled cage, for she could not resist poking her head inside to see how it worked.

Of course, she’d seen—and ridden—her fair share of lifts, but this one was different. It had no levers, no crank. There was only a tiny row of numbered brass buttons on the interior wall.

“Patrick, come see this,” she called to him. When he came, she pointed to the panel and exclaimed, “Push buttons!”

He stepped inside the lift. “Are we to operate the bally thing ourselves?”

“Yes! Isn’t it fascinating?” she said. They both stared at the panel for a moment. “I wonder what would happen if one pressed every button at the same time?”

“We may be catapulted to our deaths.”

Linley laughed, watching her reflection in the polished brass as she began pressing like a madwoman. “Well then. There’s only one way to find out!”

***

After a long lift ride—and a brief stop at every floor—Linley and Patrick found their room. It was small, but had a lovely view of the distant Eiffel Tower through a set of windows along the far wall.

“Isn’t this wonderful, Patrick?” Linley spun about the room with her arms outstretched.

He sank down onto the bed. “Very quaint. Just your sort of place, darling.”

“We’ll have more fun here than anywhere near the Élysées. You’ll see.”

“I’m sure you’ll show me a ripping time,” Patrick said, smiling up at her.

“I always do.” Linley flopped down onto his lap, planting a kiss on his upturned mouth. “You like playing cross, I know, but you’re not really miserable. You are simply afraid to show any enthusiasm over something so…plebeian…as a little holiday.” She stroked her fingers through his dark hair and purred, “Let’s indulge ourselves in all Paris has to offer—we don’t even have to use our real names—then you can lock me away in our sleeper car and have me all to yourself ‘til Constantinople.”

“Do you want that?”

She blinked. “Want what?”

“For me to lock you away.”

“Between the staff, and the villagers, and that dog of yours, I get hardly an hour alone with you in a day,” Linley said. “But I cherish those few moments. And I will cherish every minute of this trip because I am by your side, whether that means dancing in a nightclub or wrapped up in bed together. Oh, Patrick, this will be good fun if you open your mind to it.”

He pushed her off his lap and rose to his feet. Linley wasn’t sure what her husband intended to do until he snatched her in his arms, spun her two or three times, and then dipped her.

“You win, darling. Take me out and show me a good time. Then tomorrow, once we board that train for Constantinople, I will have three days to show you my idea of fun. When it’s all over, you can decide whose was better.”


OUR LAND OF BEYOND is available at the following retailers:

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