coming home – a summer story – part three

by Sharon Santoni

I am so glad that so many of you seem to be enjoying my summer story about Catherine, who discovers that she has inherited a house in the south of France.   Today is the third chapter.

If you missed them, you can find chapters one here and two here .

I am particularly fortunate to publish in the company of Jeanne McKay, whose beautiful illustrations highlight the tale perfectly.   Jeanne tells me that many of the paintings are already sold, so if you are interested in anything from today’s story, be sure to pop over to her blog I Dream Of  and contact her straight away!

I am also grateful to Heather Robinson who is keeping an eye on the text for me – and proving again what a great thing the blogging world can be

I hope you enjoy this latest chapter, thank you for reading

oo00O00oo

watercolour of french food market

A loud noise woke her and she sat up with a start. She looked around her, trying to work out where she was and then it all came back to her. The sunshine was bright and she was still sitting in the chaise besides Paul’s desk. His sketch books were lying on her lap and at her feet. She started picking them up as Jocelyne came bustling into the room “Oh mon Dieu, vous avez passé la nuit assise ici! You spent the whole night ‘ere? Antoinette went to see if you need anything at the ‘otel this morning and they said you were not there, so she came and tell me. I let myself in, I hope you don’t mind but I was worried about you.”

“ Thank you Jocelyne, that is so kind of you. I started reading Paul’s travel journals last night and I must have just fallen asleep.”

“Come into the kitchen Madame Catherine. I shall make us some coffee. I still ‘ave ‘alf an ‘our before I go to the work.”

Catherine stretched and put her shoes on. She blinked at her rumpled reflection in a mirror as she walked towards the door and then joined Jocelyne in the kitchen.

“Jocelyne, this house is just so incredible…I can’t really believe that it is mine. The thing is…I hardly knew Paul. He was the half-brother of my grandmother. Did you know him well? Is there any way you could tell me something about him…please?”

watercolour shutters on house

Ah oui, Madame Catherine, of course. Monsieur Paul was a kind man and very generous. You know I grow up in this little town and for as long as I remember Monsieur Paul is in this ‘ouse. He makes ‘is beautiful paintings and he ‘elps some people in the village who ‘ave problems, everybody love ‘im. At his funeral, the ‘ole village was in the church and all the time we were asking ‘ow come there is nobody from Amérique ‘ere for Monsieur Paul’s funeral?”

“Well,” replied Catherine, “I don’t know but he must have been out of touch with his family in America for some reason…so we couldn’t have heard about his funeral. I didn’t even know he was an artist.”

Ah bon!? ‘Zis is amazing, you know people come from a long way to buy Monsieur Paul’s paintings and they are even in museums ‘ere. We are very proud to ‘ave such a famous artist in our village.”

Catherine didn’t know what to say, she felt embarrassed to know so little about her relative and benefactor, so she turned the conversation to a more practical note.

“Jocelyne, I want to stay here for a while to understand more about Paul.”

“Ah, very good Madame, shall I tell the ‘otel you will be come?”

“No, thank you, Jocelyne. I think I would like to stay in this house. I will find a room and make up a bed. I really want to learn more about Paul and what made him live here in France.”

Jocelyne smiled and clapped her hands together as if in prayer. “This is very good Madame Catherine, I am ‘appy for your decision. And I do not work every day at the notary, so if you wish I can ‘elp you a little.”

“Thank you. But please, first of all, just call me Catherine and then tell me where should I start in the village?”

Jocelyne smiled, pulled open the window and waved her arm towards the gate. “Zat is easy Catherine, le marché! Today is market day. There can be no better way to start!”

Catherine looked out and saw that the village square that had been so empty yesterday was now filled with brightly coloured stalls covered with red and blue parasols.

After their coffee, Jocelyne helped Catherine turn on the water heater and check that there was hot water running in a small bathroom on the ground floor. She showed her where to find a couple of soft towels and then promised to stop by in the evening after work.    Catherine showered quickly and picked out some clean pants, a simple shirt and some comfortable shoes from her suitcase. She found a wicker basket in the kitchen and walked out the door to discover the market.

watercolour market basket

As she passed through Paul’s gate, the market noises became louder; she could hear people chatting and laughing, calling out the prices of their wares. From the edge of the market square, she realized that each stall emitted its own delicious perfume – from the rich smell of ripe melons to the tempting waft of roasted chicken, to the fragrance of sweet strawberries. Added to this, the vendors displayed their goods so beautifully, luring clients in, persuading them to come closer and to buy. Catherine heard herself say out loud, “This is a paint palette, no wonder Paul found his inspiration here.”

watercolour melons

She was able to buy a few things for her meals that day and was surprised that everyone did their best to understand and make themselves understood, despite her lack of  French. Once her basket was full with bread, apples, strawberries, ham and some cheese, she took a seat at a little café in a corner of the square. She listened to the clients around her and when the waiter approached, she smiled and said, “Bonjour…a coffee, um…a café, please?”

watercolour strawberries

Sitting in her chair with her delicious coffee before her, she watched the market square in front of her as if she were at the cinema. She was particularly interested to see how the women were dressed and how they behaved. Women of all ages were shopping for their fresh food. Nobody wore sports clothes or sneakers. They wore pretty dresses, open sandals, simple skirts with a loose shirt. They held baskets in their hands or pulled little trolley baskets on wheels. They walked tall, talking briefly to each other and to the vendors before moving on. She noticed that their hair was tidy, they each looked attractive but she saw nobody with heavy make up or painted nails. “That must be the French Chic,” she thought.

watercolour blue chairs

An hour later she paid for her coffee and walked through the market, then slipped back behind Paul’s gate, looking over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed her going into the house. While at the café she had devised a plan of action. The first thing she needed to do was to unpack her suitcase and make a small space her own. Although legally the house was hers, she still felt a bit like a trespasser, at best an unannounced guest and she wanted to remain discreet. She chose a small bedroom on the ground floor, just beside the bathroom where she had showered earlier. In her room there was a double bed, a bedside table with a lamp and beside the window stood a pretty pale upholstered chair with gold patina on the legs. On the wall facing the end of her bed was a long row of closet doors and here she found space to hang and pile her clothes neatly.

watercolour french bedroom

Everything in the house was clean and tidy, the garden was tended… how could that be since Paul died three years ago? She must remember to ask Jocelyne later on. For now though, she had more exploring to do.

Reading Paul’s travel journals the previous evening had given her an insight into his life and the sort of man that he might have been – someone curious, open-minded and generous. She had the impression that this big house had been a hub for artists – both local and from abroad. There appeared to be many more bedrooms than one man living alone could possibly need and once upstairs she discovered that  each room was prepared as if permanently ready for unexpected visitors.

Catherine wanted to find out more about Paul’s work but although there were plenty of paintings hanging in the house, not many were signed and she couldn’t know which were his.

Fortunately, on a shelf in an upstairs bedroom, a thick book caught her eye, “Paul Gates,  A Retrospective.”  She opened the cover and read the subtitle, ‘Paul Gates – His work in Provence from 1940 – 2000’.

As she turned the pages she discovered Paul’s beautiful impressionist style paintings, many depicting villages in Provence, others of the rugged coastline of the Cote d’Azur. She looked more closely at the information on each painting and realized that many were part of collections housed in museums all around the world. She closed the book, with a feeling that the intrigue was thickening and continued her tour of the house.

The first floor was given over to Paul’s bedroom and bathroom plus a couple of supplementary bedrooms. Furnishings were muted, simple, discreet. There were piles of books on tables and more filling the bookshelves along the landing wall. She climbed a smaller staircase up to the second floor and pushed open the door. To her surprise this was not another bedroom but a painting studio with an overhead skylight window filling the room with a beautiful soft light. Beneath the skylight stood two easels, a couple of stools and shelves of paint tubes and jars with brushes standing on their end. On one easel was a half finished painting of a house; it appeared to be Paul’s own.

She looked through the canvases stood upright in a corner of the room. There were a dozen more paintings here, each one quite breathtaking. “Oh my,” Catherine whispered even though there was nobody near to hear. “Paul, are these all yours? Shouldn’t someone know about this?”

She noticed a low door on the wall to her left and pushed it open. The light slowly crept into the small dark room with a sloping ceiling. It was hot in here and too dark to see clearly in the room, so she returned to the studio and found a candle holder with a short stub of wax and some matches in the base.

With the soft glowing candle in her hand, she returned into the attic room. The candle flickered, then burned more brightly. Catherine gasped. On all four sides of this narrow, low room there were more canvases lined against the wall. She put down the candle and pulled out a painting. It appeared to be of a path in Provence, the light a soft mauve. A second canvas was retrieved – a church spire over terracotta roofs. Catherine’s heart was beating a little faster now. She lifted a stack of smaller paintings into the studio and returned to take a couple of big frames before blowing out the candle and setting the paintings up on one of the easels.

Each work was signed by Paul, some were framed, others were simply a roll of canvas. She sat down on a stool and contemplated her find. “Paul, if your paintings are in museums all over the world, then why on earth do you have so many stashed away up here?! These must be worth a fortune! Why have you left all of this for me to find, Paul? “ She stared at the paintings for a while, and sighed, “My friend, I think that it is time I read that letter of yours.”

She carefully returned the paintings to the attic room, shut the door and went downstairs. By the kitchen door, pinned to the wall was the business card for a local taxi service with ‘English spoken’ printed in red. She dialled the number and ordered a car to take her to Fécholles that afternoon. The moment had come to listen to her uncle.

watercolour painting of house

Thank you again to Jeanne for the lovely illustrations and to Heather for keeping an eye on my punctuation (and the rest!)

If you missed part one of this story you can catch up here,

 part two is right here, part three is here ,part four here

 part five here, part six here and part seven here

65 comments

Karena July 27, 2015 - 4:35 pm

Sharon this chapter is even better with the discovery of so much art! I am so thrilled and of course adore Jeanne’s illustrations and Heather’s assistance! I would love to see you write a book on this theme!

xoxo
Karena
The Arts by Karena
Ceramic Artist Leah Bowring

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Sandra Lambiotte July 27, 2015 - 7:55 pm

Karena:
I agree with you – a book would be wonderful!

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Elizabeth Williams July 27, 2015 - 5:15 pm

Mondays are even better now when I know there will be a new chapter to your story. Such fun. Thank you for a lovely start to my day.

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Margie July 27, 2015 - 5:15 pm

Your story is wonderful! How I would love to have had an Uncle Paul leave me a house in France! You are an excellent writer and should have this published as a short story. Can’t wait for the next installment.

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Angela De Marco Manzi July 27, 2015 - 5:16 pm

I am loving this. Thank you.

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Sheryl Kirk July 30, 2015 - 7:07 am

Angela…I named my second daughter Angela Elaine DeMarco. My husband’s Father was from Northern Italy.

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Valorie July 27, 2015 - 5:18 pm

Thank you so much for this lovely gift! I’m completely enthralled with every delicious morsel!

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Adele July 27, 2015 - 5:19 pm

Lovely! Now to wait another week! Merci.

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Phyllis Richard July 27, 2015 - 5:49 pm

Sharon, thank you for another delightful chapter in a simply lovely story. I feel as though I am there with Catherine! A great way to begin a Monday.

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pretty pink tulips July 27, 2015 - 6:00 pm

This is by far the best way to start the week. Your words, Jeanne’s art work. I don’t want the story to end!!!!

xoxo Elizabeth
ps: Lucky me…I get to see Jeanne this week, as I’m in Seattle for a quick visit!

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Meredith Swift July 27, 2015 - 6:05 pm

This collaboration is brilliant! The story is captivating and the illustrations are wonderful.

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Alice July 27, 2015 - 6:12 pm

Monday’s have gotten so thrilling. On my early morning walk today, it came to my mine that today I would read another installment of Sharon’s wildly thrilling french story. So, I began to think of ways your story would go. My hour long walk, seemed to race by with no thought of how long it was taking me. I love creative people. Think it’s more important than anything else in a persons life. My imagination is the best of friends and gets a work out most days. Thanks for sharing yours.

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Vicky from Athens July 27, 2015 - 6:36 pm

Thanks for another wonderful chapter and thanks also to Jeanne. Her watercolors put me right in the middle of your delicious story! That Catherine is one lucky lady!!!

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Anneke Boks July 27, 2015 - 6:57 pm

yes mondays are even better when i Discover a other instalment of Your very Nice story .Like last years one very Nice ,and the illustrations are terrific .So mutch talent THE two of you .so thank you from à windy rainy village in Holland
Anneke

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Joie July 27, 2015 - 6:59 pm

Great, but you are such a tease. I don’t want to stop reading now 😉

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Catherine July 27, 2015 - 7:08 pm

What a treat to find this enchanting story in my email inbox! Beautifully illustrated, as well. Thank you.

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Robin July 27, 2015 - 7:10 pm

So enjoying this!!!

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Joan July 27, 2015 - 7:20 pm

Such a delightful gift and a happy way to begin the week. I am loving this story….can we have the next installment sooner?

And thank you, too, for the lovely art work you have included.

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Amy July 27, 2015 - 7:58 pm

Sigh…. Makes one want to escape… Such vivid description it makes me feel like I’m there….. If only………

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Sandra July 27, 2015 - 7:58 pm

Sharon:

The story is just so enjoyable – I feel like I am there with Catherine.

Many thanks to you and know your work is so appreciated by me and so many others.

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Jean Watkins July 27, 2015 - 8:00 pm

I am so excited to read your story each Monday. As I read, I feel the emotions of Catherine, as she explores!! What a treat!! Thank you!!

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Colleen Taylor July 27, 2015 - 8:17 pm

So wonderfully enchanting to read Sharon. Looking forward to the next one.

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Michelle July 27, 2015 - 8:43 pm

Thank you for the exciting story and lovely illustrations. I checked my inbox more than once today!

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Dawn Johnson July 27, 2015 - 8:46 pm

Yes, the waiting is getting harder each week

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Vicki July 27, 2015 - 9:24 pm

Okay, I am officially hooked! The waiting to read is so hard! This would be the book I would stay up all night to see where it goes and shed a tear when it ends! Please continue!

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Sunny July 27, 2015 - 9:44 pm

What a wonderful story! I am living the fantasy with Catherine. I can’t wait for the next installment!

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Delaine July 27, 2015 - 10:23 pm

This story is so intriguing and I’m just loving it! I love Jeanne’s artwork, also! Just breathtaking! Can’t wait for the next chapter when she finds out what is in Paul ‘s letter! Merci for the Monday morning entertainment!

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Karen July 27, 2015 - 10:50 pm

I look forward to Mondays now!! I feel like I am right there with Catherine!!!
So excited to see what she finds in the letter from Paul. Thank you for this gift!

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Marianne C. Whitman July 27, 2015 - 11:23 pm

Oh, this is so wonderful a story, but I wish it could have been longer today, the third installment I mean. I almost did not find it, as did not receive by e mail as I usually do, but I remembered it was to arrive today, and so I searched and found part three. You are so talented, and I am loving the story, and I find myself smiling as I read it, and already waiting for the fourth installment. I always get your blog online so I don’t know what happened today, just grateful I remembered to look for it. I also ordered and received your new book and it looks to be beautiful, so grazie for that too. Sincerely, Marianne [email protected]

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Elizabeth July 27, 2015 - 11:34 pm

Your stories are such enjoyable reads! Thank you!

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Joanne Roberts July 27, 2015 - 11:39 pm

Sharon,
I love Catherine’s story that you are presenting each week. And the beautiful watercolors from Jeanne – what a perfect addition! Today is my birthday and I feel like this third installment was a little gift! Can’t wait to continue…Merci !!!
Joanne

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Marilyn July 28, 2015 - 12:18 am

I will be anticipating more of the story next Monday. It is hard to wait a whole week. How I can dream this dream, just beautiful.

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Christine best July 28, 2015 - 12:22 am

Love the story and dont want it to end. Will it end up in a published book?

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Leslie in Oregon July 28, 2015 - 12:23 am

This story just gets better and better…you, Jeanne and Heather are a wonderful artistic trio!
Although the undisciplined side of me would love to just sit down and barrel through the whole story (or is it a short book?), taking it in, and savoring it, one chapter is much better!
Thank you!

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Leslie in Oregon July 28, 2015 - 12:24 am

P.S. edit: “one chapter at a time” is what I meant in the above comment.

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Lin Powell July 28, 2015 - 12:39 am

I am enjoying your story so much and look forward to each chapter. I was wondering if you have already finished your book and are just presenting it to us a chapter at a time, or if you are writing it as you go each week. It is a delight.

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Shell Parsons July 28, 2015 - 1:04 am

Another delightful read. Thank you for making Mondays so lovely.x

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susan July 28, 2015 - 1:06 am

Now you caught me. I thought, at first, this was your story, how you came to France Now that I have read the 3rd episode, I am so in love with this story. It is fiction…yes? You must publish a book. Wonderful reading and anticipation of the next chapter, Thank you

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Heather McPherson July 28, 2015 - 1:10 am

Just loving your story Sharon, I feel like I’m there, wish I was! Can’t wait for next week , thank you.

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splendid market July 28, 2015 - 2:20 am

What a great tale and a beautiful project. The illustrations are so unique and charming.

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Eileen July 28, 2015 - 5:29 am

Patience is not one of my better traits, however I find with this delightful story that I do not mind it being in instalments as it gives me something to look forward to each week. Thank you for giving me so much pleasure.

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Deb July 28, 2015 - 5:33 am

Sharon
Such a lovely story. It brightens my day.
Debbie

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Julia July 28, 2015 - 11:04 am

I am totally captivated by this story and I am totally drawn into the beauty of the house and can visualise everything you have described not to mention the landscape and village….can not wait for the next instalment……jusqu’à la semaine prochaine!!

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Marian from UK July 28, 2015 - 11:11 am

I’m enjoying this so much – it’s so easy to feel her emotions! And the watercolours are a complete delight. Keep them to have in your book when you publish the story. It would be an unusual and delightful feel good book to carry on holiday or to take out when you’re feeling a little blue. Puts me in mind of ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes. Lovely. well done Sharon.

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Jacqueline July 28, 2015 - 12:33 pm

I love this story. Reading it, I am back in the south of France, walking right in her footsteps. can’t wait until next Monday. Thanks Sharon and the watercolors are lovely additions that make the story even more vivid.

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Susan Gabriel July 28, 2015 - 1:41 pm

Yes ! Sweet and innocent with a touch of mystery.
The perfect gift – thank you Sharon. Merci
Susan Gabriel
Gabriel Papers

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Cherie July 28, 2015 - 4:52 pm

This is a dilemma—wanting to know what comes next and never wanting it to end

……looking forward to Monday’s chapter

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Elizabeth July 28, 2015 - 6:59 pm

I just found your blog and just read all 3 chapters of the book! I do not want it to end, can’t wait until Monday to see what Catherine discovers!

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Marsha Cannon July 28, 2015 - 8:12 pm

I am hooked on this delightful story! Love all the watercolor illustrations too. My only hope is that this is a long tale and will not be ending any time soon. Thanks for such a pleasant start to my week!

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Gina July 28, 2015 - 8:39 pm

dreamy watercolors!

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Sue July 28, 2015 - 9:27 pm

What a lovely story! I’m completely captivated and look forward to next Monday. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing.

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Judi July 28, 2015 - 10:19 pm

Sharon, I rarely write but I just had to let you know, like all your readers, just how much I am enjoying your creative story. I think it tickles all of our fantasies: to inherit a beautiful home in a village in France, to find friendly people, wonderful art work, to be right there at the market place! And then, to be able to write like you write, tell a story as only you can do, and then to create beautiful watercolor paintings as Jeanne has done – just lovely! Hats off to Heather, too – editing is one of the toughest jobs!! I’m just hoping there are oodles of more installments! Thank you!

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Cecilia July 29, 2015 - 1:04 am

Oh Sharon, what a wonderful tale you weave. I’ve just spent three fabulous weeks in the south of France, and Paris. I long to be Catherine!
Thank you for a blog that is full of everything French, and so inspiring.

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Evelyn Pintor July 29, 2015 - 4:58 am

Hello,
I am truly enjoying reading this lovely story! The art is wonderfully sweet!!
Thank you for sharing it with us!!

Fondly,
Evelyn

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April July 29, 2015 - 3:47 pm

Delicious! Your story is a perfect get-away. Today’s episode reminded me of the French markets in Aix. All the aromas, colorful flowers and spices, fruits and vegetables. Oh to be in France again. Thank you for your intriguing blog. I am enjoying all of it. So much talent.

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Emm July 29, 2015 - 6:05 pm

Oh, noooo. Another whole week until the next chapter! Like the others, I am completely hooked on this lovely story (and you have totally mastered the end-of-chapter hook). What a wonderful way to spend the summer.

Kudos to you and to Jeanne and Heather.

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Ardith July 29, 2015 - 6:57 pm

Truly engaging story, Sharon, and the illustrations are lovely. Cheers, Ardith

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Agnes Irene July 29, 2015 - 7:52 pm

I really love the market scene and the description of French Chic – it’s so easy to visualize. Catherine’s openness and curiosity allow me to experience her impressions as if I were right there. And the watercolors so beautifully illustrate the story – charming, full of light, and elegant.
These Monday installments are fast becoming mini-vacations – a perfect way to start the week. Merci!

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Hope Price July 29, 2015 - 8:16 pm

I can hardly wait for Mondays! Thank you for this fascinating story and beautiful illustrations. Wish that the chapters were longer!

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LA CONTESSA July 29, 2015 - 8:52 pm

I’m HOOKED……………………..charming………………..XX

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Debra Butland July 30, 2015 - 1:34 am

Love, love, love the story! Hope there is a book forthcoming!

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Judy August 2, 2015 - 5:42 pm

Am enjoying this wonderful story so much, it completely transports me to the ” south of France”. Thank you so much.

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Ade August 3, 2015 - 3:28 pm

You late this week ! I love your story

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Brenda August 4, 2015 - 6:33 pm

This is such a captivating story. Thank you for sharing it.

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Pauline January 12, 2016 - 11:12 pm

I know I’m behind, but I love your writing and the wonderful illustrations of your friend. I can’t wait to finish this lovely story! Thank you

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