Excerpt from To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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To Capture What We Cannot Keep

by Beatrice Colin

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin X
To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2016, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 304 pages

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"I'm so sorry," she said as she let him go.

"Not at all. Are you all right?"

"I have a fear of heights," she explained.

How ridiculous that must sound, she thought suddenly, how lame, how patently untrue, in a hot-air balloon of all places. His eyes, however, were on her face, his gaze unwavering. He wasn't laughing.

"I spend a lot of time in the air," he said.

"Really? What are you, an aerialist?"

He laughed and his face lifted. It was not, she decided, an unpleasant face.

"Close," he said. "Are you enjoying it?"

"It certainly is an experience," she replied. "I've never been in a hot-air balloon before. I'm not sure I would again."

"I rather like it. The sensation that one is attached to the Earth only by a chain. And now, if you will excuse me for one moment, I must take another picture."

He moved his camera toward the edge, looked through a tiny hole in the back, and adjusted the concertina in front. Once he was satisfied, he turned a dial, reached into his case, found a flat black box, and attached it to the camera's back.

"You're English?" he said as he pulled a thin metal plate from inside the box.

"Scottish," she replied.

He smiled, then consulted his pocket watch.

"I'm exposing the plate," he explained. "It must be kept very still for twenty seconds exactly."

She held her breath as he counted out the seconds.

"Voilà!" he said as he wound the shutter closed again. "Just in time."

She looked up and noticed that a thin mist had begun to descend, enveloping the balloon in white.

"We'll have to imagine the view instead," she suggested.

He turned and gave her his full attention again.

"Then imagine a tower," he said. "The tallest tower in the world. It will be built right here on the Champ de Mars for the World's Fair, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. You won't have to come up in a balloon anymore."

"That!" she said. "But everyone says it's going to be awful, just a glorified pylon."

He laughed and began to put away his camera.

"Or a truly tragic lamppost," he said.

There was a sudden tug and the balloon dropped a couple of feet. The passengers let out a cry of alarm, followed quickly by a show of amusement. Maybe they weren't all quite as fearless as they appeared.

"That was short," said Jamie, appearing suddenly at her elbow. "And you can't see anything now. Not sure it was worth the price of the ticket."

"You should take the steamboat, a bateau-mouche," the Frenchman suggested. "The route from Charenton to Auteuil is the best and only costs twenty centimes. It takes you through the whole city by the river."

The two men began to chat, as men do, about professions and prospects. Cait felt a spike of disappointment; she wished that Jamie hadn't come looking for her.

"You're an engineer," said Jamie. "What a coincidence! You might have heard of my uncle, William Arrol. Our company is working on the Forth Bridge near Edinburgh. And we've almost finished one across the Tay, to replace the one that collapsed."

He glanced briefly in Cait's direction. The balloon was yanked down another couple of feet. Something within her plummeted in tandem. She had forgotten herself. She was thirty-one years old; she'd had her chance.

"What are your current projects?" Jamie asked the engineer.

"A tower made of iron," he said, and smiled at Cait.

"Not Eiffel's tower?" said Jamie. "The one they're going to build somewhere around here?"

"I designed it," he replied. "Together with my colleague, Maurice Koechlin. We work for Gustave Eiffel."

Cait covered her mouth with her hand. Beneath her fingertips her cheeks burned.

"You should have told me," she said. "There I was, calling it a truly tragic lamppost."

Excerpted from To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin. Copyright © 2016 by Beatrice Colin. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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