Echoes from Afar
Echoes From Afar by Tamara McKinley
Paperback, 400 pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Love & Romance
Published January 28th 2016 by Quercus Books
A powerful story of love and loss from internationally bestselling author Tamara McKinley.
So this is Paris, she thought in awe. Spread out before her beneath a clear blue sky, it was like a precious gift after the smog and filth of London. No wonder it was called the city of love . . .
After a spiteful rumour ruins her career in London, Annabelle Blake must travel to Paris to start afresh. There she makes the acquaintance of Etienne and Henri - one a poet, the other a painter - both charming, talented and handsome. They spend their days flirting and drinking with the city's artistes and Bohemians, and soon Annabelle too is swept up in the exotic and exhilarating world of 1930s Paris.
But as ever more young people are drawn to the fight against Fascism in Spain, Annabelle must wake from the dream and confront the reality of war. A lifetime later, gifted artist Eugenie Ashton falls in love with Paris the moment she sets foot outside the Gare de Lyon. Like her mother Annabelle before her, the artistic delights of the city are a bright new world to her: but Eugenie will soon find that in its shadows are hidden the secrets of her family's past.
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With their black hair and olive skin they were as alike as brothers, but for Henri’s bright blue eyes. Henri was twenty-six and older by a month, but it was always the more adventurous, hot-headed Etienne who led them into trouble – and Henri’s cheeky grin and blue eyes which got them out of it.
They’d had little interest in farming, even as boys, and although they helped their fathers and uncles in the fields, they preferred the silence and solitude of the wide open spaces that sprawled between the shadow of the Pyrenees mountains and the wild surf of the Bay of Biscay. As boys, they’d built a hideaway formed of driftwood and stones they’d gathered from the shore, and had made a rough thatched roof from grass and turf and bits of old tin they’d found lying around.
It was here that Henri drew and painted pictures, and where Etienne would write wild adventure stories and keep a diary.
‘Do you remember our little hut?’ asked Henri as they strolled back along the embankment from their early-morning meander through the galleries of the Louvre.
‘Of course, but what made you think of that today?’
He shrugged and paused to look around him as the traffic thundered over the cobbles.
‘I don’t know,’ he confessed, ‘but now and again I long for the peace and solitude we found there. I’d paint and you’d write, and somehow we were lost to the rest of the world, whereas here there is always noise and bustle and people demanding things of you.’
Etienne came to stand beside him and leant his back against the parapet to light a cigarette.
‘We came to Paris to make our fortune,’ he said as the smoke dribbled from his mouth. ‘You’re not having regrets at this late stage, are you?’
Henri shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and breathed deeply of the clean, green watery scent of the Seine.
‘Not really. But I had hoped I could have found a patron to support me by now. It’s been almost seven years, Etienne, and I still have to sell my soul to the tourists in Montmartre to keep a roof over my head. After looking at those great paintings in the Louvre, I’m beginning to wonder if I should just throw it all in and go home.’
Etienne raised a dark eyebrow, his almost black eyes widening in surprise. ‘You’re sounding very sorry for yourself all of a sudden.’
His handsome face lit up in a broad smile.
‘Has little Amélie thrown you over for someone richer and more dashing? Is that what this is all about?’
Henri laughed as he leant against the balustrade.
‘Amélie’s a free spirit with an eye on the main chance. She’ll never be tied down to someone as poor as me. But she was a good model – and cheap.’
Etienne laughed with him.
‘There are plenty of pretty girls in Paris who would model for you, Henri. And most of them will come cheap if you flash those eyes and give them your most beguiling smile.’
He turned to lean against the balustrade, shoulder to shoulder with Henri, his expression suddenly far more serious.
‘As you’re feeling so restless, have you given any more thought to what we discussed last night?’
Henri lit his own Gauloise and turned his thoughts from the luscious but unreliable Amélie to the darker subject of the Spanish Civil War. The Basque people had always suffered at the hands of both the French and the Spanish, but now that the fascists were threatening to overrun Spain and cause havoc throughout Europe, his natural patriotism was beginning to stir a hitherto dormant fighting spirit.
‘I feel the same as you, that we must do something,’ he said eventually. ‘But neither of us are fighting men. What good could we do by getting involved?’
‘You can handle a rifle, as can I. Our fathers taught us as soon as we were big enough to hold one. And we can ride as well as anyone, should there be horses involved.
Etienne regarded his friend thoughtfully and then nudged him with his elbow.
‘You’re not afraid, are you?’ he teased.
‘Yes, I am,’ Henri said flatly. ‘I’m an artist, not a soldier, and any sensible man would admit as much.’
His rather stern expression melted into a grin.
‘But then you never were sensible, Etienne. And neither was I to let you persuade me to come to Paris in the first place.’
‘We’ve had some adventures, though, haven’t we?’ Etienne replied with a smile. ‘Remember when we were about five or six and we packed food in a feed bag and went off into the mountains looking for the legendary chimera? And when we were eight we made a raft out of tree branches and tried to set sail for America.’
Henri flung his arm around his friend’s shoulder and gave him a hearty squeeze.
‘I remember our fathers giving us a strapping after we disappeared for four days and came home half-starved and scared witless, and how our raft sank and we almost drowned. It was just lucky that old fisherman hauled us out in time otherwise we wouldn’t be standing here today. You’re a liability, Etienne, and always will be.’
Etienne smiled back for he’d known Henri for too long to read any insult into his words. He finished his cigarette and watched it float away on the swiftly flowing river.
‘So,’ he said as he turned to look at Henri, ‘are you coming with me or not?’
‘I suppose I’ll have to,’ he replied with a sigh. ‘Someone’s got to be there to get you out of the trouble you’re bound to fall into.’
They grinned at each other like schoolboys and began to walk towards the Pont Neuf.
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