After all, even holy men can fall. And salvation may be closer than they realize.
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The sun is beginning to set, and the sky above the cream buildings becomes a soft, twilight blue. The antique lamps spark to life, and the streets quiet down a bit as people start to eat dinner. I love that about Paris—sometimes, dinner isn't finished until midnight. And even then, you're in no rush to go home. The smell of cigarettes and freshly-baked Camembert cheese permeates my nose, and the air cools considerably, though it retains a bit of the humidity from earlier.
A woman asks Salem a directional question, to which he replies—in perfect French, of course. I know enough to get by, and that's about it, so I'm left waiting on the sidelines as he grins at her like he's conveying some secret knowledge. He smokes his cigarette slowly, and I feel like his mouth—enticing, dark crimson lips, the bottom lip fuller than the top, a defined jawline—shouldn't be the mouth of a priest.
When he’s finished and she walks away, he twists us through the narrowest alleys and oldest streets in comfortable conversation.
And I can’t help but feel like life isn’t fair in another aspect.
A priest. A man of God, a person who probably doesn’t even think about sex, or outrageously cheesy macaroni, or lazing around on the weekends. I bet he doesn’t ever lose his temper. To top it off, he’s gorgeous. And I’m not the only one who notices, either. Women openly gawk at him. Whether it’s the just-fucked hair he constantly runs his hands through, or the intense expression he defaults to as he meticulously scrutinizes you—or his crystal blue eyes that glimmer with interest, the constant five o’clock shadow, the furrowed scythe-shaped eyebrows... the list goes on.
And when he smiles? It slays me.
I can’t think any of that, though. He would never—could never—want me like that. One doesn’t study to become a priest as a fun pastime.
Life. Isn’t. Fair.
We turn a corner, and suddenly, like it always happens, things snap into place, and before me is the perfect picture—Salem silhouetted by a street lamp, a large cemetery behind him, and the twinkling lights of a nearby cafe providing soft, dusty light.
“Stop,” I order. “Don’t move.” I am kicking myself for not grabbing my camera on the way out of my apartment, but my phone will have to do. I reach into my purse and pull it out, and Salem gives me a shy smile.
“Ah, the artist’s lull,” he muses, grinning now. “How often does this happen?”
I take a few pictures with my mouth pulled to the side in concentration. “Rotate to the right a bit, please,“ I answer, crouching down just so, to get him in the right frame.
“Like this?” He holds his hands out to the sides and looks up, and I snap the picture.
“Got it,” I say gleefully, walking over and showing the picture to him. “And to answer your earlier question, it happens all the time. Usually at the most inconvenient times, like when I’m two seconds away from missing the picture, or when it’s pouring rain and I’m without an umbrella. Sometimes I want to go up to people and ask them if I can take a picture of them because it’s so perfect... but I don’t want to sound like a creep.”
He laughs and points to the phone. “That is a good picture. You have some raw talent, Lilith.”
“You know, you can call me Lily, if you want,” I say, putting my phone away. I’m buzzing with inspiration all of a sudden, but I put my hands in my pockets and follow him across the street.
“I like Lilith,” he ponders, glancing at me from the corner of his eye.
“Like Adam's evil first wife, Lilith? Wow, thanks.“
“Technically, she’s not mentioned in the creation story,” Salem retorts. “She was just a legend that someone came up with, a way to place blame on unbelieving women.”
Crossing my arms, Salem leads us up to a large, ornate gate. We’re in front of the famous Père Lachaise, the large, tree-lined cemetery housing names like Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, and Jim Morrison. “Yes, well, historically accurate or not, two girls named Lilith and Evelyn—Eve to others—attending Catholic school were teased relentlessly,” I say, smirking.
“Lilith is more interesting than Eve,” Salem teases, his eyes alight. “From a Catholic standpoint.”
I giggle. “Well, Evelyn was the epitome of Eve, and I am... I am all Lilith.”
Salem stops and places his large hands in his trouser pockets. He tilts his head to the side. “I know. That’s why I like you.”
I snort, trying to downplay the way his words warm me up like a deluge of warm water. “You shouldn’t like me,” I mutter, looking down and kicking the stones near my feet.
“Hey,” he says gently, reaching out for my arm and pulling me closer to him. The gesture is intimate, and I immediately stop breathing. “In a world where everyone wears a mask, it’s a privilege to see a soul.”
My chest tightens and I swallow as I look up at him. “Thank you.“ His eyes seem to darken a bit, and the way the shadows play across his face makes him look... almost dangerous. I turn to the gate. “The cemetery is closed,“ I add, swallowing again to dispel the fluttering in my stomach.
He cocks his head and gives me a devilish grin. “Or is it?” He turns and marches up to the gate, entering a code. A ringtone sounds and someone answers on the other end in French. Salem laughs and they speak for a minute. Watching him speak fluent French, the way he stands confidently with his arms at his side, the way his wiggles his eyebrows at me when the other person hangs up and the gate creaks open.
I give him a sly smile as he meanders down to where I'm standing. “Do I even want to know?“
“As a seminary student, I have access to all of the cemeteries in Paris. I come here at night sometimes to get away from the crowds. The deceased are quiet, and I can contemplate life amongst them.”
“You do realize how insane you sound, right?”
“I thought you liked dead things?” he teases. Unlike Benedict, who I nearly lost from exposing my idiosyncrasies, it’s as though Salem embraces them.
It’s uncanny really. It adds to his appeal, and I’m almost angry that it does.
We walk up the small hill toward the now-closing gate. Jogging, we barely make it in before it traps us in. I gasp at the view—at the openness.
“But you're also a genius.“
The tree-lined path before us is lit with old lanterns peppering the sidelines, and the fog has started to roll in—permeating the expansive graveyard. It’s oddly quiet, as if the sounds of Paris just outside the gate wouldn’t dare enter this place. Even our footsteps, even my breathing, seems to be sucked up into the potent, silent energy. Even the smell of fresh earth, of watered grass and cut roses, seems diminished somehow. Like this place, like the souls that reside here, suck everything else up. No wonder Salem covets this place. It is quiet. And peaceful.
“This place kind of puts everything into perspective, huh?” he asks, glancing at me as we stroll down the path. Headstones of all sizes and shapes—some new, some so weathered that I can’t even make out the names and dates—dot the small, rolling hills. A few have fresh flowers. A lot have dried weeks-old flowers.
“It does,” I answer. I instinctively reach for my pack of cigarettes, but change my mind. “Life is short.”
“But it doesn’t feel short when we’re living it,” he says quietly, looking around. “The days are long, but the years are short.”
“Touché,” I answer, puffing my cheeks with air and then blowing out slowly.
Paris is home to runaways and lost souls, romantics and artists. A lover’s paradise. For Lilith Damewood, Paris is tainted, tarnished, corroded. Trying to claw her way out of her dark memories, she channels her vitriol into her photography.
Salem Tempest is a seminary student entrusted with the souls of Notre Dame de Paris—even the dark ones. When an unlikely friendship forms between the two of them, and a revelation shakes them both to their core, Lily and Salem find themselves connected in powerful and unexpected ways.
Lily risks his ruin—and her own.
After all, even holy men can fall. And salvation may be closer than they realize.
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Fun fact: her first novel is about the Tudors.
One day maybe, after a lot of wine, she might find the courage within her to publish it!
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