What would you risk for the love of a stranger?

Ilyse Charpentier, a beautiful young chanteuse, is the diva of the 1894 Parisian cabaret scene by night and the unwilling obsession of her patron, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, at every other waking moment.

Though it has always been her secret desire, Ilyse’s life as “La Petite Coquette” of the Paris stage has turned out to be anything but the glamorous existence she had dreamt of as a girl. As a young woman, Ilyse has already suffered tragedy and become estranged from her beloved brother, Maurice, who blames her for allowing the Count to drive them apart.

Unhappy and alone, Ilyse forces herself to banish all thoughts of independence until the night Ian McCarthy waltzes into her life. Immediately taken with the bold, young, British expatriate, Ilyse knows it is time to choose:  will she break free and follow her heart or will she remain a slave to her patron’s jealous wrath for the rest of her life?

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City of Lights Excerpt: Diva in the Wings

Taken from City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier, Chapter 1, A Chance Meeting
       The balmy night air of August had served to fill the halls of La Perle de Paris to capacity once again. Not a seat was unoccupied, save one quiet table in a secluded, unlit corner of the club—a table that was always reserved. The chants had commenced long ago, a gradual build from a quiet murmur to a dull roar—“Coquette, Coquette, Vive la Coquette!” The raucous mob wanted their star, and in a moment, their hunger would be satisfied.
        “Ten minutes, everyone!” a burly man bellowed, pushing his way through a mass of tulle and silk. He made his way down the backstage corridor until he came upon a solitary girl stealing a peek through the Tyrian purple-hued curtains.
        “Ten minutes, Ilyse, get ready!” he ordered.
        “Yes, Giverne,” she returned, smiling, and watched as he huffed down the hall. In a moment, her olive-brown eyes were once again fixed upon the throng, and she resumed rehearsing her lines. “City of Lights, Paree, do you see?” she sang, “I am the Diva on the stage. Hope—” But her soft chanting was suddenly interrupted by a wild flurry running down the corridor. In an instant, the commotion materialized into a profusion of blonde tendrils, which framed a pleasant round face and a pair of large, over-bright blue eyes.
        “You’re late, Manon,” Ilyse said, trying to sound reproachful as she addressed the frazzled young woman.
       The girl panted stertorously while she tried to straighten her costume and smooth her unruly curls. “Well, you know how it is. Wardrobe problems.”
        “Yes,” Ilyse answered, a knowing smirk playing about the corners of her mouth. “I know exactly how it is … too much chocolat, no?”
       Manon stopped her primping and looked up at her dearest friend. “I can’t help it if I have a sweet tooth!” she blurted out. “Now stop all this nonsense and fasten me up, will you?”
        “Oh, very well,” Ilyse laughed, and abandoned her post to come to her disheveled friend’s rescue. “Now, hold it in.”
        “I can’t,” Manon squeaked.
        “Well, that’s because you’re not wearing your corset.”
        “Never!” Manon retorted as if someone had just accused her of killing Marat. “I can’t wear that monstrous thing. It crushes me terribly. And what’s more, I can’t even breathe with it on.”
        “No one ever said beauty was painless, darling,” Ilyse said, not having any luck in her struggle to hook the fasteners on Manon’s dress.
        “Well, this beauty will go without!”
        “Then it’s hopeless.” Ilyse sighed and released her hold on Manon’s costume. “You’ll have to play ‘Sourd et Muet’ tonight.”
        “Ah, ma foi, such is my fate.”
       For a time, silence reigned, each girl fighting not to be the first to laugh. Finally, as always, Ilyse was the first to break. “Oh, stop playing the martyr, you ridiculous fool!”
       Manon made a lavish bow and struck a theatrical pose. “Don’t you think we should use that in the act?” she suggested, her large cerulean eyes widening expectantly.
        “Oh, most definitely,” Ilyse acquiesced, still laughing. “If only we can get Giverne’s permission.”
        “Forget it, then. Now, enough about Giverne. Is my Marquis out there?”
       Before Ilyse had time to stop her, Manon had pulled back the curtain and poked her head into the hall. “Oh, I see him, the darling,” she cooed, spying her Marquis and flailing her bejeweled hand through the air in a gesture that was meant to be a wave but never amounted to more than a flash of rubies and emeralds.
        “Don’t wave at him, you fool!” Ilyse whispered, and just as she said this, the glare of the candlelit hall vanished and Manon found herself staring at a suffocating wall of purple velvet and her friend’s less-than-pleased face. “Discretion, Manon,” Ilyse reminded, fighting to repress the smile that was threatening to destroy her facade of seriousness, “discretion. We are not to be seen or heard until our grand entrance. How do you expect to keep the Marquis interested?”
        “I suppose that’s true,” Manon agreed. “But I couldn’t help taking just one peek.” Ilyse smiled at her impish friend and noticed that Manon’s irrepressible dimples had appeared—a certain sign of trouble. Whenever those two little indentations arose, Ilyse knew she had to do something to damp Manon’s mischief or there was no telling what social atrocity, however hysterical it might seem in hindsight—and there had been many—her friend might commit.
        “If you’re so interested in peeking, my little sprite, then I have a wonderful surprise for you.”
        “I love surprises!” Manon answered with glee.
        “You’re going to adore this one. Now, if you really want to peek, you must do it like so.” Ilyse took hold of Manon’s hand and drew back a corner of the curtain so that only a sliver of light shone through. “Look who’s here.”
        “Where, where?!” Manon squealed, her eyes roving over the crowded room.
        “Why, there in the back. If it isn’t Gaspard and his troupe of provincial darlings! Oh, what fun it will be for you to dance with them. And look! That fat one in the front has seen you! Oh, wave, Manon, wave and show him your smile! Make that Marquis of yours insanely jealous!” Ilyse uttered a musical little fake-laugh and gave Manon a playful shove.
       Manon let the curtain fall from her grasp as though it had singed her fingers and stared at Ilyse. “I find your humor lacking, Ilyse” Manon said sourly. “The last time I danced with Gaspard’s band of ruffians I couldn’t walk for a week and my feet will never forgive you for pushing me into that rustic’s arms!”
        “Oh, come now, Manon,” Ilyse laughed, “It’s my job to liven things up a bit, too. I can’t let you and your dimples have all the fun.”
        “All right, all right,” Manon said, rising to the challenge, “Well, I saw my Marquis, and I saw Gaspard and his bumpkins, God save my feet, but I didn’t see him.”
       The instant Ilyse heard this word, all her previous mirth vanished and a terrible mix of anger and fear roiled within her. “Sergei?”
        “No…No,” Manon stumbled. “Not him, never him. I meant your ‘one true love,’ of course.”
       Ilyse’s brow relaxed and her lips curled into a faint smile as she remembered the little secret she and Manon shared.
        “Oh, Manon, for the five years we have known one another, you’ve never missed an opportunity of showing me how hopelessly naïve I actually am. Well, who’s to say he’s not out there? What harm is there in hoping, however futile the hope may be? This nightly ritual is my escape. Don’t begrudge me this little reprieve.”
       Manon, usually so effervescent, seemed crushed by her dearest friend’s accusations and blushed with shame. “Ilyse, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I never meant to make light of your feelings. Don’t hold it against me, ma soeur, don’t.”
       Regardless of what had passed, Ilyse was incapable of holding a grudge against her confidant and only friend. “I know you meant no harm, Manon. Forgive me for acting so maudlin, it’s just that I feel as though I can’t keep up this charade much longer. If I didn’t have you to make me laugh and be my one light in this darkness, I don’t know how I could’ve survived all these years. He torments me by day with his ceaseless advances, and at night, even while I’m onstage, he finds a way to invade my peace. He’s always there, waiting for me to give in. But I swear I won’t. I don’t fear him as I did before. My fear has been overtaken by anger and turned to defiance. I hate him, Manon. It sickens my heart terribly.” Ilyse lifted her eyes and saw Manon standing motionless, lost in thought. Though she didn’t say a word, Ilyse knew exactly what was racing through Manon’s mind, for she had heard it all before—the painful memories of the past that bore uncanny similarities to the existence Ilyse had described. But in Manon’s circumstances, unspeakable terror had never allowed defiance to surface. She had been an impressionable young girl, dreaming of stardom, allowing him to lead her down a path from which there could be no return. He had robbed her of her fortune, although he was richer than all the kings of Europe combined, and destroyed everything she held dear. She refused his advances, and when she tried to escape, he committed a crime so drastic that she was forced to keep silent or die. Luc Dagenais had been her one true love, and the innocent Provencal had been murdered simply because he had given her his heart—an unpardonable offense in the eyes of her jealous patron. And so the years passed, and Manon fell out of favor, replaced by Gervaise, Collette, Brigitte, and finally Ilyse, who had become his most favorite of all. She had stayed for her dearest friend, and also because La Perle offered her the only respectable means of survival—a cabaret where she could earn a decent living without selling her soul to the devil himself. So was the fate of Manon Larue.
       And Ilyse knew the vicious cycle would continue until she herself put a stop to it. But those were thoughts for another moment, for the public would not be kept waiting. The crowd was restless. Violent invectives were being hurled, if the mob were not satisfied, chaos would break loose. The star’s time had come.
       Giverne blustered through the line of dancing girls, nearly stampeded Manon into oblivion, and snatched Ilyse by the arm. “You, now,” he boomed, “get onstage!!!” And before she had time to blink, he had already begun to raise the curtain.
        “Bonne chance, Ilyse!” Manon squealed, but her voice was drowned by the crowd’s rabid cries.
       La Petite Coquette had arrived!

Why Should I Read City Of Lights?

Journey back in time to fin de siècle Paris, those heady days when dancehall divas captured everyone’s imagination. Glitz and glamour dripped from every corner of these clubs and their clientele, but backstage, the reality was entirely different. When the greasepaint came off, there was nothing but emptiness and the oppressive, ever present patrons who stifled your very essence, micromanaging your every move—choosing what you wore, whom you associated with, and even if you should associate with anyone at all. This is the world of Ilyse Charpentier, and after five years, she has grown tired of living a lie. She has fame, glory on the stage, but something she has always yearned for is missing: love. 

And then one night, she meets her soul mate, Ian McCarthy, and experiences the giddiness of first love—the carefree euphoria, the “there is nothing in the world but you and I” freedom. This is different, this is real, and Ilyse is prepared to fight to claim what she has been denied for so long. But in her bliss, she has forgotten one thing. Casting aside a patron like Count Sergei Rakmanovich is not as easy as she first assumes. After all, this is the man with a boundless desire to control the lives of others, the man who went so far as to bestow a new identity on Ilyse to make her more appealing to the Parisian populace. At this point, the idea that City of Lights is simply a romance ceases, for giving up a life of privilege as the count’s captive muse has now become far more serious and consequential than Ilyse could have ever imagined, especially when the one thing she holds more precious than her own life becomes a pawn in the Count’s sadistic game: her estranged brother and only living relative, Maurice. 
But although the struggles in this story are titanic and seemingly insurmountable, there must be laughter, which is provided by many characters, but most noticeably by Ian, for how can there not be mirth in a novel where an Englishman comes to Paris and falls in love with a French girl? Not only do we have the intrigue provided by the intertwined destinies of Ilyse, Maurice, Ian, and the Count, but we also have the clash of cultures as Ian tries to adjust to expatriate life in France. The battle is launched almost immediately during a very heated argument with a nationalistic French waiter over the merits of Guinness versus the vaunted wine of France—Ian’s foreign ignorance being, to the waiter, tantamount to a guillotining offence. This thread continues throughout the novel and serves to lighten the mood by offering moments of laughter and glimmers of hope to Ilyse for the future she and Ian might share, if only she is willing to grasp for it.

From the glittering palace of music and enchantment where Ilyse reigns supreme, to a fogbound train station in Munich, Germany, where only death awaits, you are taken on a whirlwind ride through the life of this young girl whose only wish was to believe that the City of Lights would hold some magic and romance for her, too. Yet although this is Ilyse’s story, everyone in her orbit is vitally important to bringing this saga to a close: ever faithful Manon, her best friend and confidante, whose bubbly exterior masks deep scars from her own ordeal at the hands of the count years before; Count Sergei Rakmanovich, the “cause of it all,” who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to have Ilyse for himself—as if controlling her every move for the past five years weren’t enough; Vasily Markolovick, Sergei’s lackey, who has always carried out his precious master’s wishes, until now; Maurice, too selfish to see his sister’s anguish, too stubborn to understand that he has abandoned her when she needs him most; Ian McCarthy, passionately in love with Ilyse and wildly different from anyone in her stifling world, a man for whom she would willingly flee the gilded cage.

And lastly, there is Ilyse, who is faced with an earth-shattering decision. Her choice will decide who lives and who dies. After being enslaved for so long, can she really give up her one chance at happiness to save the brother who loathes her?
Would you?

   
About the author

I have been an author since the age of fourteen and write Young/New Adult historical romance, suspense, supernatural/paranormal thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, novellas—you name it, I write it! I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.
If I had not decided to become a writer, I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I am very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.





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What is Twilight?

twi·light

/ˈtwīˌlīt/
Noun
  1. The soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon, caused by the reflection of the sun's rays from the atmosphere.
  2. The period of the evening during which this takes place, between daylight and darkness.
Synonyms
dusk - gloaming - nightfall

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