Chapter 1 of “Touchstone of Love” by Beth Barany
Rose smiled in her window seat as she felt the 747 jumbo jet bank over the Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris and land smoothly in the September dawn. She felt something unwind at the pit of her stomach as the tires rolled on the long runway. She always felt like she was coming home when she landed in France, even though she was born and raised in Oakland, California.
Soon she would transfer to the smaller airport north of Paris to fly direct to Edinburgh, Scotland for her presentation at the annual international conference on human-computer communications. Instead of flying direct from Charles de Gaulle, she’d booked the transfer at the smaller airport to stay within her company’s travel budget.
Rose felt shimmies of excitement shoot up and down her spine. She also looked forward to some one-on-one time with Brian. She licked her lips. Her annual date with the suave, handsome, and successful man was always full of wining and dining in the privacy of her plush, comped hotel room.
Life was good. But she wished she’d made enough time this year for traipsing through the French countryside to visit cathedrals before going to the conference. With a twinge of longing, she thought of the high ceilings of Chartres and the hidden labyrinth in the Amiens cathedral. Instead, she had let the pressures of work take precedence. Her boss was gunning for her to finish her analysis for their client. Right after the conference, she had to rush back to her consulting job in San Francisco at one of the top software companies in the country.
She groaned at the thought of the report she had to complete. It was sitting in her tiny travel laptop. She wished she weren’t planning to look at it at all during this trip—no matter what the deadlines were—she just wanted a fun, sexy romp and to forget about her normally busy life. She wanted an adventure. She wanted…something more. Rose shouldered her travel bag, sailed through customs, and settled in for the hour-long bus trip to the small Beauvais airport. She didn’t mind the transfer; it fit the company budget and allowed her to doze and daydream about Brian’s suave smile, generous credit limit and wonderful taste in plying her well with Swiss chocolate and delicious wine. She’d deal with the report once she arrived at the conference hotel.
“What do you mean, I missed my flight?” Rose asked in her most polite Parisian-accented French. She wanted to use a few choice swear words, but knew the French attendant would shut down like a trapdoor if she did. Rose wasn’t trying to pick a fight, yet.
“Sorry, miss,” the attendant said in French. She was dressed in a prim uniform, bright red lipstick, not a hair out of place. She waved Rose to step out of line.
Rose huffed and did as she was asked. She examined her travel itinerary for the hundredth time. All the times were there correctly. How could she have messed up? She dragged her tired body to a hard plastic seat, scrubbed her cheeks and palmed her eyes. That was supposed to calm her, she learned in one of the stress relief and relaxation seminars her boss always had her attending.
She blew out a breath and watched the next flight’s passengers queue up in this small but busy airport. Something sparkled out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned to look, it was gone.
Rose re-examined her itinerary. What was going on? There. She spotted it, a transposition of a four for a five. She did that sometimes. Rose was an hour late for her flight. She swore under her breath. Anger faded just as quickly as it came, and she bounced up, satisfied that she’d found her mistake. She was ready for a solution. There had to be a solution to get to Edinburgh on time. Had to be. Brian was waiting. The talk she had to give on the interplay between human social behavior and computer response was waiting. She was missing her talk if she couldn’t get to the conference today.
“So sorry to bother you but—” Rose rushed to the Help desk and addressed the attendant, a man in a pressed uniform, in her most polite French. “I need to catch the next flight to Edinburgh—today.”
“Sorry, ma’am, but there are no more flights today.
Only one flight a day to Edinburgh.”
“Quoi?” What? Rose stamped her foot and frowned.
She wanted to kick herself for being so stupid. She sighed. She felt idiotic.
“What are my options?” she asked in French, while the attendant watched her, a bored expression plastered on his pretty face. He probably saw passenger meltdowns twenty times a day. Even so, he rebooked her for the next day. See, there was a solution. She’d just get there a day late.
Rose hopped another bus, her fourth transportation vehicle of the day. She grumbled to herself, a mixture of French and English. Brian would be waiting for her.
She’d have to re-schedule her talk, if that were possible. The organizers would just have to deal, and maybe she wouldn’t be invited back. Damn. She hated that, but she was helpless to do anything about it right now. She sighed and settled in for the ride to the nearby town of Beauvais. In the afternoon’s fading light, she noticed an arbor in the round reminiscent of the pre-Christian era’s rites of harvest. For a moment she thought she saw young women dancing in a circle, dressed in medieval period garb. She blinked. The vision was gone.
As the bus rumbled through the town, neat stone nineteenth-century buildings adorned the wide boulevard. Between two buildings she caught the glimpse of a tall spire that caught the light and sparkled like a beacon. Her heart quickened. She hadn’t realized there was a cathedral in Beauvais. Maybe her overnight stay would be enjoyable. A pressure eased in her chest.
Rose ignored the looks from other pedestrians and continued her walk-jog around Beauvais at dusk. She needed to clear her head. She still felt stupid for making that mistake with her itinerary and missing her flight, but at least she’d been able to get her talk rescheduled and email Brian about her delay. Her watch beeped, signaling the end of her run. She walked along the quiet streets then stretched against a stone fence, finally paying close attention to where she was. She’d made a wide circle of the central part of Beauvais.
Rose was almost where she’d started, a few blocks from her hotel at the center of town, and found herself at the foot of the town’s thirteenth-century cathedral. She craned her neck to peer up to the spires, very tall spires, probably the tallest she’d ever seen, and she’d visited all the major cathedrals of northern France.
This cathedral had a funny-looking front door, not grandiose and welcoming as she’d seen at Notre Dame in Paris. The door seemed more like an afterthought, just squat steps leading to the door. She meandered around the closed cathedral in the setting sun and cooled down from her walk-jog. She heard some laughter of young women and men, but saw no one around. That was weird. She brushed off the illusion. She must be really tired.
Beautiful paving stones lay at her feet, huge limestone blocks at eye level, and fine stonework soared far above. She couldn’t help it—she put her hands on the stone, feeling the echoes of history under her fingertips. She could swear she heard the sound of a chisel against stone. Her imagination was doing overtime, her jet lag getting to her.
She thought of the men who shaped the stone, cut the stone, quarried the stone, found the vein in the ground, and decided to build a cathedral, all in honor of, in this case, St. Peter. White limestone gleaming in the warm, setting sun, Cathedral St. Pierre looked polished and well cared for at over eight hundred years old.
Rose circled to the back of the cathedral. At least, it appeared to be the back of the grand building because there lay a small, full garden at the foot of steep steps, leading to plain doors. She’d never seen a garden at the back or front door of a cathedral. It seemed as if someone was about to step out of the ancient houses nearby pushing up against the narrow road, and start harvesting the dark green, leafy vegetables.
She examined the cathedral. It confused her like none other she’d ever seen in France. She shrugged mentally. She liked it, though, and didn’t want to figure out the puzzle of it just now. She nibbled on some purple kale she picked from the garden and admired the dragon figures like little lizards carved into the lintel of the cathedral. In the dusk, it looked as if one of the lizards scampered up the wall.
A bright white and clearly recently polished gargoyle caught her eye. The creature stood upright on its haunches. It had a big head with an open grin and big ears, a scaly upper body, and a cat-like lower body. No water spout. What was it doing there on the corner of the building stuck up against the cathedral? She didn’t know, but its prim stance made her smile. Did it just wink at her?
Despite her stupid move of missing her flight, she was glad she got waylaid in Beauvais. It was a charming town, and its cathedral an undiscovered gem.
A chill wind blew. She shivered. Time to get back and get some sleep. She had an early flight to Edinburgh tomorrow morning, and she wasn’t going to miss it this time.
Read the novella here.
The Stories in the Touchstone series
In order of the story timelines, but you can read the stories in any order.
1. Touchstone of Love: (A Time Travel Romance novella) (This novella first appeared in Gargoyle: Three Enchanting Romance Novellas) (#1)
2. Christmas Fling (#2)
4. A Labyrinth of Love of Roses (#4)
5. A Cupcake Christmas (#5)