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Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

for all who once had a dream - Scorpio's Kiss by M.C. Domovitch

18+
Scorpio's Kiss is set in New York and Paris amid the glamorous and competitive worlds of art and real estate, Scorpio's Kiss takes the reader from the late 1940s to the 1970s through the tumultuous lives of its heroes. 

Description:

Published: January 29th, 2016

Scorpio's Kiss is set in New York and Paris amid the glamorous and competitive worlds of art and real estate, Scorpio's Kiss takes the reader from the late 1940s to the 1970s through the tumultuous lives of its heroes. 

There is Alex Ivanov, the son of a Russian immigrant and part-time prostitute. He yearns to escape his sordid life and achieve fame and fortune. His dreams of becoming a world-class builder are met with countless obstacles, yet he perseveres in the hope of someday receiving the recognition he craves. 

Half a world away, Brigitte Dartois is an abused teenager who runs into the arms of a benefactor with an agenda all his own. When she finds out that her boss has an ulterior motive, she flees again, determined to earn her living through her art. This career brings her fame, but also the unwanted attention of her early abuser. 

M C Domovitch's debut novels are compelling tales filled with finely etched characters and a superb understanding of the power of ambition. Scorpio's Kiss promises to resonate with all who once had a dream.

(This was originally published as Scorpio Rising and The Sting of the Scorpio.)

 EXCERPT


Chapter 1
1948
The days were getting shorter. The boy looked up in surprise at the sky, which had suddenly grown dark. He pulled his worn sweater tight against the October chill, blew warm breath into his cupped hands and hurried on. The newspaper bag strung across his shoulders was almost empty. He no longer had to put it down at every street corner to massage his sore back. He was almost home.
Alexander Ivanov lived at the end of the world. To the twelve-year-old, that was exactly what Brooklyn was; the end of the world. Maybe because the one time he had been to the city, what he called Manhattan, it had taken forever on the subway.
Alex hated living in Brooklyn, and never more so than when his mother talked about her youth in Leningrad with tears running down her face. She would revert to Russian, which he didn’t understand, but the passion in her eyes spoke more volubly of the beauty of her old country than words could convey.
Every day on his way back from school, weighed down by the load of newspapers, he passed the same dusty old stores, their signs barely legible from the peeling paint; the same ratty tenement buildings in which people suffocated in the summer and shivered in the winter; the same old women in their ritual wigs and shapeless dresses, vacant and blank expressions of hopelessness etched on their faces. Hopeless, that was how he sometimes felt; and then he would remember Manhattan and feel better. If there was one thing Alex wished for, it was to live in Manhattan. He yearned for Manhattan the way his mother pined for her old country.
Alex walked along Main Street, where pickles marinated in barrels, salamis swung from hooks, and sausages dried in their cotton bags. He was oblivious to the sights and smells around him. One by one, he took the papers from his bag, and with a quick, experienced motion, he threw them. His aim was almost perfect.
Tomorrow was collection day. He would stop at each house along his route and wait while his clients went to get their money. After making change, he would thank each one of them politely even though most never bothered to leave him a tip. His work would take him more than twice as long as on normal delivery days. Still, he looked forward to it. Collection day was when he could go home, count out his profits and decide how much of the money he could save. This week, if all went well, he might reach the fifty-dollar mark in his bank account. Fifty dollars! It was a fortune.
He reached into his bag, pulled out the last newspaper and aimed it with unerring precision at the Kodesky’s front porch. At that moment the door swung open and old man Kodesky stepped out. The paper flew through the air like a projectile and landed with a thud in the startled man’s well-padded stomach.
“Hey, you no-good little piece of shit!” He waved his fist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex did not hear a word. He was a million miles away, dreaming of the day he would escape the hell of living at the end of the world.
Even now, two years later, he could still remember every detail of his trip to Manhattan. After a long subway ride, he’d emerged in the city surrounded by skyscrapers so tall, he could only see the top by looking up high and leaning back. People on the street rushed about in the lightly falling snow, pushing and jostling each other, their arms full of brightly wrapped packages. It was one week before Christmas and there was a dizzying feeling of joy in the air. Alex had been almost drunk from the excitement. This must be what Leningrad was like.
Deep in his dreams of unlimited delights, he walked home. Three blocks later, Alex climbed the stairs to the dingy one-bedroom apartment where he and his mother lived.
Before he was born, his mother had tried to make the apartment look warm and inviting. She hung pretty paper on the walls and crisp curtains over the windows. The furniture was inexpensive but attractive and functional. Whatever nesting instinct had once inspired Marlena Ivanov’s efforts had long disappeared. For the past twelve years she had done nothing more to improve her home. Indeed, she had not done even the most basic of repairs. Over time, the wallpaper had become worn and faded. The curtains lost their freshness and the once attractive furniture became old and shabby. The sour stench of poverty clung to the apartment like old dirt.
Alex closed the door behind him and dropped his canvas bag on the floor. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. From the kitchen came the smell of boiled cabbage.
“Is dat you Alexander? Vere ver you? Is nearly six o’clock and dinner is been ready for hour,” his mother’s heavily accented voice called out from the bathroom. “I getting ready to go out. You vill ave to eat alone.”
Through the thin door came the sound of the toilet flushing. A moment later Marlena appeared wearing a tight pink sweater set and a black satin skirt. Her dark hair was freshly coifed, the marks of the bobby pins still imprinted between each wave. Her mouth was painted crimson in the shape Joan Crawford had made popular a decade earlier. From ten feet away the smell of vodka on her breath was overpowering.
“Will you be coming home by yourself?” asked the boy suspiciously.
“Vat you vant me to do?” She picked up her purse abruptly and threw in her lipstick. “You vant to eat. I not do dis for me. A boy need food to grow big, strong. Someday you understand.” A moment later, she was gone.
Marlena Ivanov was a bitter woman. She made no secret of the fact that raising a boy by herself was a heavy cross to carry, one she deeply resented. Alex sometimes thought his mother hated him almost as much as she did his father. He had never seen his father. He knew, only because his mother repeatedly told him, that Pavel Ivanov had been a gambler and a womanizer. Whatever wages the man had earned, he just as quickly spent on those two vices. The day Alex was born was the day Pavel Ivanov decided that married life was not for him. He disappeared, leaving his seventeen-year-old wife to deal with the struggles of working and raising a son by herself.
After a dinner of cabbage soup, Alex turned off the lights and climbed under his blankets. In the dark, he could clearly see his mother’s empty bed a few feet from his own. He turned his back to it and curled up.
Hours later, the muffled sound of laughter woke him up. The bedroom door swung open and the light turned on.
“Turn dat off. You vake up boy,” his mother ordered in a shrill whisper. The light flicked off. “Das better. I like dark.” She laughed. “Now, come to Marlena.” Clothes rustled. From his cot, in the corner of the room, Alex guessed every gesture, every movement. Old springs creaked. The sounds were loud, magnified by the stillness of the night.
Alex covered his ears. By trying hard, maybe he could keep the noises from reaching him. It was too late. The guilty stirring in his loins had already begun. His mind swirled in a mix of emotions too strong for him to understand. Maybe if he thought of something else. Someday I’ll drive in from the city in a brand new Cadillac. I’ll show them all…
The next morning, Marlena kissed the man goodbye and turned triumphantly to Alex. “See dis?” She pulled out a ten-dollar bill from between her breasts. “Dis can buy food for whole week.”
Alex looked away, embarrassed and ashamed, and returned to the picture he was drawing on the back of his spelling book.

*  *  *
By the time he became a teenager, Alex Ivanov believed his ambitions were just dreams. He still felt a raging desire to be rich. Except for the endless stream of buildings he drew, which everyone agreed were beautiful, he had no special talent. Other than the goal of saving up a lot of money, he had no real plan.
Alex kept delivering newspapers and watched his savings grow. At this rate, I’ll never have enough money to move out of here.
He decided to look for other opportunities. Soon, he found what he was looking for. He sold his paper route to a younger boy for two dollars, the amount of a normal month’s profit, dipped into his bank account for another five dollars and invested in a second-hand bicycle with a large wicker delivery basket. The next day he began to work for Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery.
From then on, every day after school he raced down to Schimmel’s and loaded up his basket with bags of sweet-smelling homemade knishes, jars of savory borscht, and fine yogurts with a crust of cream on top and packaged in drinking glasses. With a speed never before seen from any of Schimmel’s boys he raced through his deliveries. Yonah came up to him one day. “What are you trying to do, boy? Get yourself killed? Slow down,” he told Alex. “No sense in going so fast. Slow but safe, that’s the way to go.”
Alex nodded politely, but just as soon as Yonah turned away, he jumped on his bike and sped off.
Alex was tall and well-built for his age. The years of delivering newspapers had helped develop his once lanky frame into a strong, muscular body. His shirts, which were often a size too small, hugged him in a way that exaggerated the ripples on his chest. His hair was black and his eyes ice blue in a face that could only be described as sensual. The sight of the young and virile teenager, slightly flushed from carrying Schimmel’s parcels, did strange things to his female clients.
Often, when Alex rang a doorbell, the woman who answered appeared even more flushed than the delivery boy. Alex smiled and greeted each client politely by name—“Good afternoon Mrs. Zawisny”—and he would walk away with a fresh knish, and more often than not, with a generous tip. Within one month, he had made enough money to cover the expense of the bicycle, plus what he would have normally saved with his paper route. Alex was beginning to feel like a rich man.
The way women reacted was a constant source of amusement for Alex. Since he’d started shaving the year before, he knew the effect he had on the opposite sex. Still, he had no interest in any of them, except maybe in Miss Mateus, his homeroom teacher.
Rita Mateus was a big-busted brunette in her mid-thirties, with smoldering brown eyes that made Alex blush when she looked at him. Sometimes he caught himself dreaming about what he would like to do to her, given the opportunity. Never in a million years did he believe the opportunity would come, and that when it did, it would prove to be his ticket out of Brooklyn.
For months, and to his great pleasure, every time he asked Miss Mateus a question, she would leave her desk, come up to him, and as she bent over his books she would rest her ample breasts on his forearm. One day, as he prepared to leave class after school, she asked him to stay.
For the next hour, Miss Mateus went over his homework book, studying drawings one after another, while her breasts brushed against his back, his arms and even his cheek. “You’re a talented boy. I love this drawing of—what is it?—the Empire State Building? What do you want to be? An architect?” The fourteen-year-old boy blushed and stammered a response, praying the whole while that she would not notice the erection in his pants. Miss Mateus—or Rita as she asked him to call her—noticed. Then she did the most shocking thing. She put her hand right on top of the swelling in his crotch. She looked at him with limpid eyes and said in a melting voice, “Why, Alexander Ivanov, you’re not a boy anymore. You’re a grown man.”
The next day after school, Rita invited him to her apartment. Alex raced through his deliveries faster than he ever had and arrived at her doorstep in record time. She invited him in and poured him a glass of Chianti. “What sign are you?”
He looked at her, confused. “Sign?”
“What’s your birthday?”
“November fifteenth,” he replied, still perplexed.
“November, hmm? That makes you a Scorpio.” She leaned forward and traced a lazy finger along his upper lip. “Scorpio men are intensely passionate and ambitious. But beware a Scorpio’s sting.” She smiled, and his heart skipped a beat. “But, you won’t sting me, will you?” Before he could think of an answer, she rose and picked up a deck of cards from the table. “Do you play cards?” He shook his head. “Well, you’re going to learn.”
That night, Alex learned two things: strip poker and the grown-up game of sex.
Rita pulled off her bra and stood triumphantly before him—the loser thrilled to be vanquished. “You like my tits, Alex?”
“Oh! Yes!” he answered, not daring to move.
“Touch them.”
“W-what?”
She came closer. “You heard me. Touch them.”
Small beads of moisture broke out on his upper lip. He hazarded a hand out to the soft flesh, and thought he might come there and then.
“Kiss them.”
He took a nipple in his mouth and felt it harden. Rita moaned. It was too much. His erection, which had been dangerously close to bursting, exploded in his shorts.
“Hey, sweets, the idea is to keep a little for me.” Rita motioned him toward her bed. “Lucky you’re young. Let’s see how long it takes to get you going again.” She cupped his balls into her hands and took him in her mouth.
“Oh God, I love you,” he cried out. He had never felt anything so delicious in his life. It was so good it hurt. This time, he didn’t come until Rita begged him to.
After that, the routine never varied. Every day after school, Alex would hurry through his deliveries, spend a few hours with Rita, and then rush on home.
It was months before his mother noticed how late he was getting home in the evenings. When she asked him about it, Alex brushed it off easily. “I go to the library and do my homework.”
Marlena chose to believe him. “I no cook for you ven you late.”
She’s happy she doesn’t have to worry about fixing my supper, Alex told himself and swallowed the lump in his throat. Then he thought of Rita and his heart filled with joy. I love Rita and she loves me. That’s all that really matters.

*  *  *

Every night, as soon as Alex walked in the door, Rita pulled out the cards. It was her favorite foreplay. In the beginning Alex invariably found himself losing and in no time was playing completely naked, but the promised vision of Miss Mateus pulling off her bra was enough enticement to make him yearn to win.  
After sex, Rita liked to talk. Surprisingly, she seemed to enjoy their conversations.
“I don’t know why that surprises you. You’re a bright boy. With a mind like yours, you can do anything you choose.”
I can do anything I choose. It was a staggering thought. Maybe he really could be an architect. It was a dream he’d never dared voice.
The next day, Alex went to the one place in Brooklyn he loved. At Highland Park, he climbed the hill to the old reservoir, where he looked straight out to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. He sat on the cold, damp grass and thought about what Rita had said. He didn’t want a job just for the sake of earning a living. What he wanted was a position with prestige. He wanted people to look up to him with admiration and respect. He wanted Rita to be proud of him.
His eyes wandered back to the skyscrapers across the distance. Skyscrapers like those he dreamed of building. From his position they looked like monuments. Monuments to the builder. His heart swelled. That was what he had always wanted to do—build big important buildings like those skyscrapers.

Rita laughed when he told her. “Be serious. Why don’t you want to be a plumber or an electrician? An architect! That would take years of studying. I know I told you that you’re smart, but not that smart. Besides, sweets, you don’t really expect me to wait for you to grow up, do you?”
The words were like a knife in Alex’s heart, but they only made him more determined. Rita meant everything to him. He would have to show her.

The relationship endured until his senior year, when he was ready for college. One day, when he rushed over after his deliveries, he found Rita in bed with another man. For a few minutes, he hid behind the door and listened in horror as Rita said to this stranger all the special secret things she had said to him. “That’s it baby, don’t stop. You’re the best, baby. The very best.” He heard Rita’s familiar moans rise until she screamed. Tears welled in his eyes.
He closed the door silently behind him and went home. All night he tossed and turned, shocked that he could feel so much pain. Never again, he vowed. No other woman is ever going to hurt me.
The next day after school, Alex went back to Rita’s as usual, and made love to her as though nothing had happened. Afterward he had a talk with her. “Rita, does anybody know about us?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she answered sharply as she straightened the seams of her stockings. She sat on the edge of the disheveled bed and watched him covertly.
“I guess you’d be in real trouble if anyone ever found out. Right?”
Rita adjusted the straps of her brassiere and paused in her dressing, long enough to light a Lucky Strike.
“You might lose your job,” he continued.
She took a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled slowly.
“You might even be prosecuted for—what is it—something about a minor?”
She exhaled, blowing the smoke in his direction. “What is it you want Alex?”
He told her.

At his next report card, Alex Ivanov was at the top of his class. He was accepted at NYU with a full scholarship; he had seven hundred of Rita’s dollars in his bank account; and the pain of finding her in bed with another man was just a distant memory.
*  *  *









Chapter 2


Halfway around the world, Brigitte Dartois also liked drawing. Rather than buildings, she drew pictures of her family—Papa, Maman, and herself under a bright sun. Sometimes she drew trees and flowers. Her subjects were the same as any other child’s her age, but her pictures were different. They were strong, arresting.
Viens voir, Colette,” her father called her mother. He held up a bright drawing of a garden. “Regarde, don’t tell me our daughter is not talented.”
Colette Dartois looked, but to her, those colorful scribbles were no better than those of any other nine-year-old.
She shrugged. “You shouldn’t compliment her too much. It will go to her head. Brigitte, put that away and go do your homework.”
 Colette would often look at her husband and her daughter with a vague discomfort. He paid so much attention to Brigitte, and so little to her. Every day when Louis Dartois burst through the door after work, it was Brigitte to whom he opened his arms after a perfunctory kiss to Colette. Gradually, Colette’s love for her husband and daughter festered into resentment and jealousy.
When Brigitte was thirteen years old, her father died suddenly. Three months later, her mother married Lucien. “Consider yourself lucky. Not many men are willing to be a papa to an already-grown girl like you. You better be nice to him.”
But the girl was filled with anger, feeling betrayed by her mother’s indifference. One night, when Brigitte was alone in the house with her stepfather, she was awakened by a pair of rough hands moving over her body.
“This will be our little secret,” Lucien told her when she opened her eyes. “If you even think of telling anyone, I’ll kill you.” Then he raped her.
Her mother worked the evening shift as a barmaid at a club down the street, and for the next three years, it became a nightly ritual for Lucien to stop in for une petite caresse, as he called it. Every night he gave her the same warning. “You tell anyone and you’re dead.” Sometimes he went into gruesome details of what he would do to her if she ever told. Brigitte believed him. And she kept her mouth shut.
Once the top student in her class, her grades began to slide, until she was close to failing. She slept at her friends’ whenever she could. At home, she was silent and withdrawn. Her mother barely noticed. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “You keep it up and you’ll be kicked out of school.”
One night, while Lucien was in her bed and forcing himself on her, the bedroom door flew open. Her mother stood in the entrance, an expression of horror on her face. Lucien jumped up and fumbled with his trousers. “It’s the girl’s fault,” he said, his voice coming in halting breaths. “How’s a man supposed to resist. She’s always coming on to me. As soon as you leave in the evening, she takes off her camisole and lets me see her body. Colette, you’ve got to stop her, she’s trying to break us up.”
“Get out!” Colette shouted, and her voice was like ice. The girl sobbed in relief. At last, her ordeal was over. She would never have to see her stepfather again. “You’re no daughter of mine. Get out, you putain.”
In shock, Brigitte realized her mother was speaking to her. She had lost! Lucien had won. She dressed as quickly as she could, threw a few of her things into a pillowcase and slipped silently down the hall to the closet where her mother kept her purse. Sorry, but I’ll need this more than you will. She took all the cash she found. Then she left.
Two days later, a help-wanted sign in a store window caught her eye.
*  *  *

Even in his late forties, Marcel Latreille was a tall, colorless man. His road to success had been marrying the vapid Hélène Richoux, of the Richoux chain of fashion stores. For twenty-two boring years, he remained faithful to his dull wife, reminding himself regularly of the union’s one important benefit. Thanks to his wife’s shares in the company, he was in total control of the stores. Without her, he might still be selling ties in the menswear department.
Marcel Latreille was bright and ambitious. Under his tutelage, the chain grew into one of the most successful in France. Over the years, the stock had doubled and quadrupled, until it was worth nearly twenty times what it was worth on his wedding day. It was an enviable record, one that should have made Marcel a very happy man. In reality, it only served to make him feel bitter. Although, as President and Managing Director of the stores he received a generous salary, he owned no company shares. These remained jealously in his wife’s hands.
Although dull, Hélène Richoux was not stupid. As willing as she was to lend her husband control of the company, she never gave him the means to leave her side.
The day Brigitte walked into Richoux’s main store on the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, was a particularly distressing one for Marcel. That morning, over breakfast at the George V with his chum Aurèl, he noticed that the server didn’t smile at him the way she did at most of the other customers in the room. Even when he tried to flirt mildly, the woman simply ignored him. On his way through the store to the office, he walked by a mirror and was jolted when he realized that the drab-looking person he saw reflected was himself. My Lord, I have finally turned into a male version of Hélène. It was a depressing thought.
Marcel Latreille was forty-seven, an age when a man should feel in the prime of his life. Instead of taking pleasure in his success, he felt bored and empty. If he didn’t do something soon, his life would be over before he ever enjoyed it. If only I wasn’t stuck with Hélène. At that moment, he walked by the personnel department and his eyes fell on the pretty young girl filling out an application form. Although she was tall, thin, and curved in all the right places, it was the pain in her eyes and the desperation in her voice that attracted him. When he reached his office, he called the woman in charge of personnel.
“Who is that girl, filling out the questionnaire?” he asked.
“There’s nobody here at the moment, Monsieur Latreille.”
“Yes, of course there is. I just saw her. A young woman, red hair, about twenty—she was standing at the counter a minute ago.”
“Oh! That one. I didn’t keep her application. She’s only sixteen and has no experience.”
“What did you do with it?” He was surprised to hear himself yelling. That was something he rarely did.
“I threw it in the garbage. Just a moment. I’ll fish it out.” She picked up the phone a moment later. “Here it is. Her name is Brigitte Dartois. There’s no telephone number or address.”
“Stop her before she leaves the store. I want to see her in my office, now.” He slammed the phone into the cradle.

Brigitte was nearing the main exit when a burly guardien stepped in front of her. “Sorry, mademoiselle. You’ll have to come with me.”
“Why? I haven’t done anything wrong.” It flashed through her mind that her mother must have pressed theft charges against her.
“Marcel Latreille wants to see you. He’s in charge here.”
Heart hammering and faint with fear, Brigitte entered the large wood-paneled office.
“Mademoiselle Dartois is here to see you,” the officer said.
“Show her in. Have a seat, mademoiselle. Brigitte, isn’t it?”
“Yes, thank you.” She sat and nervously smoothed down the folds of her skirt. She still could not understand why she’d been summoned.
From his seat behind the desk, Marcel Latreille studied the girl with curiosity. With a knowledgeable eye, he noted that she was lovely in spite of her unflattering attire. She has the face of an angel and a body made for pleasure. What a beauty she would be with the right clothes. The thought intrigued him. “You’re looking for a job. What kind of work would you like to do?’
“Anything sir. I have no experience, but I can learn fast.”
“How would you like to work in the cosmetics department? With a face like yours, women will be begging to know your beauty secrets.”
Brigitte nodded.
“Fine. You’re hired.” He pushed the intercom button. “Jeanne, could you come in here for a minute please? There’s a young lady I want you to meet.”

Jeanne walked in. With her upswept hair, expertly applied makeup and well-tailored suit, she looked every bit the sophisticated and capable corporate secretary. She glanced at Brigitte with curiosity and looked at her employer.
“Jeanne, meet Brigitte. She and I need your help. Here’s the situation.” Marcel quickly explained what he wanted and Jeanne jotted down a few notes. Once in a while, she glanced at him in surprise. “So, what do you think?” he asked finally.
Jeanne tapped one perfectly manicured fingernail against her notebook and inspected Brigitte with a critical eye. “You’re right. It’s an exciting idea, but you’re not giving me much time.”
“What I want is discreet elegance, nothing flashy. And I want her to get to work as soon as possible.”
“I’ll do my best.” Jeanne smiled at Brigitte. “Are you ready?” Jeanne carefully suppressed her feelings of revulsion. It was clear to her that Marcel Latreille had more on his mind than training a new employee.
“Yes, madame,” replied Brigitte eagerly.

Jeanne had to do a total makeover. What the girl needed first was a proper wardrobe. Jeanne took her to the young-designer section on the fourth floor and began rummaging through the sales racks under the girl’s expectant eyes.
“So, which one do you like?” Jeanne pulled out two blouses and held them up for Brigitte to inspect.
The young girl was overwhelmed. “I don’t know. They’re both so beautiful.”
Jeanne glanced down at the blouses. Both of them were silk. One had raglan sleeves and a Peter Pan collar. The other was a more tailored style, almost like a man’s shirt. “You’re right. You really need more than one. We’ll take both.” Why not, she thought. If Marcel Latreille has designs on this child, he can bloody well pay for two silk blouses.
“Oh, but I didn’t mean—”
“I never imagined you did. Now let’s not waste time. We have a lot to do.” Jeanne selected a classic brown wool skirt. With it, she chose a matching houndstooth jacket. “This is perfect.”
Brigitte agreed enthusiastically.
“Now you need shoes and accessories.” In the shoe department, Brigitte immediately spotted her favorite pair—simple pumps with a small heel. To her joy, Jeanne pointed to that very pair and asked the salesman to bring them in Brigitte’s size. A few scarves and silk stockings later, the shopping spree was over.
“I’ve never owned such beautiful clothes,” said Brigitte, so overwhelmed she thought she might burst. Visions of herself dressed in all her new finery danced through her mind. “Is Monsieur Latreille so nice to everyone here?”
“He’s being very nice to you,” replied Jeanne, eyebrows raised and mouth pursed. “Very nice indeed.” She hesitated for a moment, and then continued. “Brigitte, if you ever need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to come and see me.”
Brigitte looked at her, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I only mean that you’re very young and that if you ever need the expert advice of an old lady like me…”
“Oh, Jeanne, you’re so beautiful. You’re probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life.” Brigitte’s admiration was sincere.
Jeanne smiled. “Thank you. That’s nice of you to say.” She sighed deeply and patted Brigitte’s hand. “But enough of this chitchat. We still have a lot to do.”

Next, Jeanne took Brigitte to see Olivier. The hairdresser, a tall skinny man with a thin black mustache, took one look at Brigitte, put the fingers of his right hand to his mouth a made a loud kissing noise. “Beautiful,” he exclaimed. “And just look at all that hair. It will be a pleasure working on you, ma jolie.”
“Olivier,” said Jeanne. “Monsieur Latreille wants something classic and easy enough for Brigitte to maintain by herself.”
“Trust me.” Olivier was walking around Brigitte, touching her hair and rubbing the strands between his fingers. “So thick. So shiny, and with a face like that, anything will look good on her.”
“Olivier,” repeated Jeanne in a warning tone.
Oui, oui, j’ai tout compris. Come with me, my lovely.” He guided Brigitte to the sink and ordered an assistant over. “Louisette, give her a shampoo. Finish with a touch of cream rinse, then bring her over to my chair.”

Brigitte sat in Olivier’s chair and watched as he ran his fingers through her hair. He picked up a pair of scissors and began to clip.
When Brigitte emerged from the salon, she looked like a new person. Instead of the gawky teenager of a few hours ago, she was a beautiful and elegant young woman. Her new clothes were simple and well cut, emphasizing her tall and slender silhouette. Her red hair was trimmed to shoulder length and tied off her face by a simple twisted silk scarf, knotted at the base of her neck.
Jeanne stared at her in shock for a moment. Finally she recovered enough to speak. “Mon Dieu, who would have believed it? Monsieur Marcel has a good eye. Every one of our customers will want to look just like you. Come. Our boss wants to see you.”

*  *  * 

“So how do you feel?” asked Marcel. The girl stood in front of him, staring at her feet.
“Like Cinderella,” she answered. Marcel burst into laughter. Jeanne felt her heart sink.
“Jeanne, you did a tremendous job. She is beautiful.” Marcel looked at Brigitte again. It was difficult to believe this was the same girl who had stood trembling in his office. “Now, I think she’s ready for some training.” He nodded his dismissal, and Jeanne and Brigitte turned to leave. Just as they walked out the door, Marcel called out after them. “Brigitte, do you have a place to stay?”
The girl blushed. “I-I haven’t had a chance to start looking,” she stammered. She had slept huddled inside a Metro station the previous night
“Do you have money for an apartment?” Before she had a chance to answer, he continued. “Jeanne, see that she has an advance on her salary. As a matter of fact, why don’t you take a few hours to help Brigitte find a place to live?”
Brigitte could not believe her luck. If not for Marcel Latreille’s generous help, God only knew what would have become of her. She smiled at her benefactor gratefully. “Thank you so much, Monsieur Latreille. If there is anything I can do for you…anything,” she said innocently. “How can I ever pay you back?”
“That’s very sweet of you my dear.” His eyes ran over her body as she left his office. A body made for pleasure, he thought again.



About the author:
Monique was born in the small town of Hearst Ontario, the oldest of ten children. “You can’t imagine the pressure,” she says,laughing. “Anything I did wrong—and I did plenty—was sure to lead my siblings into a life of sin. I therefore accept the blame for any wrongdoings by all member of my family.”

When she was twenty years old she moved to Montreal, where she became a successful model, winning the prestigious Modeling Association of American Contest and continuing on to an international career. During this time, she worked with many top photographers and graced many designer runways. “Modeling was a wonderful career,” she says. “I met so many interesting and talented people. I travelled all over the world. After ten years of facing cameras and audiences, I became very comfortable with the public. I had no idea at the time, just how much this ability would serve me later in life.”
When Monique retired from modeling, she founded Beauties Modeling Agency in Montreal. Through her tutelage, many Canadian models gained international renown. “I wanted to accept my age rather than try desperately to look young for an unforgiving camera. That was the main reason I retired from modeling when I was still young.”

Later, she became a financial adviser and planner, and soon found herself hosting her own national television show about personal finance. After four years on the air, the series ended and Monique soon retired from her financial career, remarried and embarked on her new career in writing. Her success was almost instant. She was singed on by an agent within months of finishing her first novel and soon signed two contracts for a total of six books. She is now hard at work on her ninth, due out in winter of 2015.

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