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CITY OF ASH
by Megan Chance

Genre: America, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance

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Jean-Claude Marat.

It was a Thursday in January when he first entered my parlor with Ambrose Rivers. I knew who Marat was only because Ambrose had told me the famous French sculptor would be coming. But for that, I never would have recognized him; he was young to have garnered such a reputation for genius. I'd expected a bearded man in middle age. Vivacious, yes; brilliant, of course, but tested. The man who came to the salon that night was not that, and it was not just the fact that he could be no older than my own age of twenty-eight. Though snow fell in great drifts outside my door, his dark blond hair was gold-streaked, as if he'd been in the sun, and he was, frankly, beautiful. There wasn't a woman there who didn't notice him. His smile took me aback—of all the men I'd met, I'd only been so affected by a personality one other time, when I'd first seen Nathan.

Marat reminded me of everything I'd once had, everything I'd lost. He made me realize what a prisoner I'd become, how unhappy I was. Nathan ignored me—even worse, he was contemptuous of everything I believed in. Marat had that combination of intellect and poetry and passion that had once been my husband, and he was taken with me. I had missed that kind of admiration. I began to feel alive again. He made me see that there were other men, men who accepted me as I was, who wanted me as I was.

Jean-Claude Marat was in truth everything that Nathan had pretended to be. When my father asked me whom he should commission to sculpt a bust of himself for the newly built Harriet Stratford Wing of Mercy Hospital—my father's endowment in my late mother's name—I didn't hesitate to give him Claude's name.

I went to every sitting. I sat quietly and watched as Claude sketched and chatted amiably with Papa. Soon I was bending over his shoulder as he sculpted Papa's head in clay, his fingers working so quickly I could barely grasp the movements, forming a nose where before there had been only a lump; a bold, quick thumb drag and suddenly there was an eyebrow. When the sittings were done, Papa would have luncheon served, and often he would be too busy to stay, and so Claude and I lingered over duck or lobster salad and wine and talked.

I was starved for the passion Nathan had kindled and withheld. When Claude said to me one day, half drunk, at my salon, "I would like to sculpt you, my sweet Ginny," I saw the opportunity I hadn't realized I'd been waiting for.

A scandal. The one thing Nathan would never tolerate.