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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Davida Chazan
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1

February 1886

THE SAND ON THE Champ de Mars was powdered with snow. A huge blue-and-white-striped hot-air balloon swooned on its ropes in front of the École Militaire, the gondola tethered to a small wooden platform strung out with grubby yellow bunting. Three figures, two women and a man, hurried from a hired landau on the avenue de Suffren across the parade ground toward the balloon.

"Attendez," called out Caitriona Wallace. "Nous arrivons!"

As she paused on the steps to wait for the other two, Cait's vision spun with tiny points of light in a darkening fog. She had laced tight that morning, pulling until the eyeholes in her corset almost met, and now her chest rose and fell in shallow gasps as she tried to catch her breath—in, out, in and out.

"We made it," said Jamie Arrol as he reached her. "That was a close thing."

"Here are the tickets," she told him. "You get on board. Your sister is just coming."

In the wicker gondola twenty people waited impatiently, the men in bell-curve beaver hats, and the women—there were only two—in fur-lined traveling coats. But the balloon attraction wasn't full, not on a cold winter morning with a sky so leaden it looked as if it might descend any moment, not at eleven o'clock in the morning on a Monday.

The ropes strained in the wind that blew up from the Seine, a wind that whipped the sand and the snow into a milky haze. The showground smelled of new rope and hot tar, of smoke blown from the charcoal brazier of the balloon, and underneath it all a note of something alcoholic. A flask, Cait thought, was being passed among the male passengers above. She could do with a little sip of something herself. Once on board, however, all would be well. She would not let herself imagine anything untoward, she would not visualize the gondola rising upward until it burst into flames or hurtling down until it smashed into pieces on the ground or floating away over the rooftops like Gambetta in 1871. No, she wouldn't let her fear get the better of her. She had read the promotional leaflet thoroughly. They would be tethered to the platform by a long chain. It was quite safe. And when they had made their ascent and reached a height of three hundred meters, she would look out and see the whole world clearly.

"Come on!" she cried out to her charge. "They're all waiting!"

As Alice Arrol finally approached the steps, her pace became little more than leisurely. A small group of Parisian ladies were standing at the base of the platform, their parasols raised to stop the wind blowing their hats away. After throwing the ladies a glance, Alice's face stiffened into an expression that suggested nonchalance.

"Actually," she said as she adjusted her gloves and stared up into the overcast sky, "I think I'll stay here."

Not five minutes earlier Alice had been almost ecstatic with excitement. Cait found it hard to hide her dismay.

"Are you sure? Wasn't the balloon excursion your idea?"

Alice's eyes widened in warning and her mouth curled into a small smile.

"Don't be ridiculous." She laughed. "I wouldn't dream of setting foot in such an undignified contraption!"

Alice's cheeks were flushed and her ringlets had turned into a golden frizz around her face. She had kept her hair color, the blond not turning dark. It made her look younger than she really was; her skin, nursery-pink and chalk-white with a touch of blue around the eyes. She was nineteen but often taken for much younger. Cait felt a rush of affection toward her. She still wore her newly acquired adulthood badly, like an oversize coat that she hoped to grow into.

The balloon operators started to untie the ropes. Cait glanced up at the lip of the basket. There was no sign of Jamie. She would have to tell him of the change of plan. She turned back to Alice.

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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