Before Meghan Markle, there was another actress who captured the world’s imagination when her whirlwind romance resulted in a royal wedding.
In the 1950s, Grace Kelly stunned audiences when she left behind her burgeoning Hollywood career (including an Oscar for The Country Girl) to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. The wedding became the focal point of the world, with Kelly even wearing her jaw-dropping emerald cut engagement ring in her final film, High Society, a musical re-telling of The Philadelphia Story.
Now, authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb are taking readers into the sun-soaked glory of the Côte d’Azur in Meet Me in Monaco, a novel set against the backdrop of the Grace Kelly’s romance and royal wedding. As Grace Kelly attends the Cannes film festival, she seeks a refuge from the paparazzi, taking shelter in struggling perfumer Sophia Duval’s shop as they fend off persistent British press photographer, James Henderson. The two women forge a bond that spans thirty years of friendship, love, and tragedy.
Meanwhile, James Henderson can’t shake his encounter with Sophie Duval from his mind, so he jumps at the chance to cover Grace Kelly’s wedding, sailing with the wedding party on the SS Constitution. Once back in Monaco, they all grapple with what sacrifices they will make for love as wedding fever soars around them.
EW is excited to exclusively reveal the cover for this classic Hollywood inspired tale, as well as share an excerpt from the novel’s first chapter below the cover. The book is available from William Morrow on July 23, 2019.
YES SHE CANNES!
Grace Kelly Attends Her First Film Festival
Angeline West reports for Fashion News America. May 4, 1955
Following her recent controversial suspension from MGM studios after refusing to make the picture ‘Jeremy Rodock’ and her subsequent surprise Oscar win for her role in The Country Girl, Grace Kelly was the Queen of Hollywood once more as she arrived as part of a special USA delegation for the Eighth Cannes Film Festival.
Dressed in a demure two-piece suit, wearing her trademark white gloves and carrying her favoured Hermes handbag, Miss Kelly was greeted by a swarm of photographers and adoring fans as she alighted from the overnight train from Paris. Despite looking a little tired from her long journey, she smiled happily for the cameras and patiently signed autographs.
In addition to a hectic schedule of formal gala events and premieres at the Festival, Miss Kelly remarked that she hopes to manage a little sight-seeing while on the Cote d’Azur. “It is my first time in France,” she admitted. “I can’t wait to see the dazzling Mediterranean – la grande bleue, as you say! I hear it is very beautiful.”
As is Miss Kelly. She already has Cannes, and this reporter, firmly enchanted.
Cannes, France. May 1955
Each scent holds a mystery, its own story. That was the first lesson Papa taught me. “To be a parfumeur is to be a detective, Sophie,” he’d say, bent in deep concentration over the mixing tube with a dropper of perfume oil. He would mix the solvent and sniff, mix and sniff, until he was satisfied. Only then would he soak a mouillette, a narrow strip of paper, and hand it to me. “What do you see?” he’d ask.
Because that was the real question. Where the scent took me. I would inhale and be whisked away in an instant. A touch of jasmine hinted at carefree days in the sun. Woodsmoke conjured a cool autumn night and rich cassoulet for supper. Dry earth evoked our home in Grasse; a brick farmhouse surrounded by sunflower and lavender fields, windows standing open to wash the rooms with fresh air. I could almost taste the dust from the sandy lane on my tongue as I fell into a memory of paper with fresh ink—the paper announcing my father’s death.
Papa’s nature wasn’t suited for war; part scientist, part artist, he was a gentle man who loved nothing more than the fragrant fields of southern France and the bounty they provided for his parfums. The day he left to join the fight against the Nazis, I was a young girl blossoming into womanhood and the lavender was in full bloom, painting the hillsides in shades of purple and blue. It was the last time I saw him, a silhouette against the sun-soaked horizon. That was the day Maman took over the books of the family business—and I learned to keep us afloat.
The death notification arrived in the mail the following spring, along with Papa’s papers and personal effects. Dirt, earth, fear. The scent of a life so cruelly lost. Like all scents, it imprinted itself on my memory, and that was where I kept him now. A memory. An unanswered question of what might have been.
I sighed as I corked a small glass bottle and returned it to its place on the tray in my office. Nearly closing time. I stood and stretched, rolled my head from side to side to release a crick in my aching neck. I spent most of my time working on new scent combinations or overseeing the three perfumers who worked alongside me in my workshop in Grasse; two developed commercial scents to be sold to detergent companies, while I created fine parfums. That was my specialty: luxury fragrances. I blew out a tired breath. I wished I were in Grasse now.
During the tourist season, Papa had always insisted I accompany him to our little boutique on the waterfront in Cannes. He wanted me to be the face of Duval perfumes one day, teaching me how important it was to mingle with our clients. Despite his humble background, he found it easy to make polite conversation with the wealthy tourists who came and went each year. I always felt more at home among the hundreds of vials in our workshop, or rooting through the fields beneath the vast southern skies to track a new scent, but that shy child now found herself running the business. I played the part of confident socialite quite well, when necessary. I had to. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing Papa.
I’d spent the last two weeks going from the rented apartment on rue d’Antibes in Cannes to the shop, and back again. I’d remain in the city until the end of August, making occasional trips back to the workshop in Grasse to check on things. Mostly to check on Maman. A bitter taste flooded my mouth at the thought. I would have to check in on her, sooner or later. And I couldn’t help but hope this time would be different, that I’d find her happy and healthy and not slumped over a half-empty bottle. I’d been hoping for the same thing since I was five years old.
“Natalie, could you check the shelves, please?” I grabbed the keyring and locked the door which separated the front of the store from the storage area and office at the back. “It’s nearly time. Thank goodness.” My feet ached from new shoes.
“We did well today,” Natalie said, brushing a long strand of honey blond hair behind her ear. “Thank goodness for wealthy movie stars. I still can’t believe I met Bernard Blier! He bought three bottles for the woman on his arm. She was exquisite.”
I smiled at her enthusiasm. “So you said.”
Natalie Cloutier was old enough to be my mother, but she was an excellent sales woman. She enjoyed meeting the occasional Hollywood star and the affluent tourists that popped into the shop, and though I enjoyed watching old movies with my elderly neighbor, Madame Marais, the stars’ fame and wealth didn’t dazzle me. My heroes worked at Guerlain and Chanel and Molinard. But Natalie took great pride in her work and the shop, and it showed in everything she did. I was grateful for her dependable presence; she’d known my father well and he’d entrusted the shop to her while he worked in Grasse the rest of the year. Beautiful, polished, warm Natalie. Everything my maman was not.
“It’s a shame you’d already left for lunch,” she added as she combed the rows of glass shelves, moving bottles a centimeter to the left or wiping away invisible dust. Everything just so. “You always seem to miss the really big names.”
“Yes. Such a shame,” I mumbled as I sifted through the register, pulling bills from the drawer and placing them into a zippered bank bag.
It had been a long week and I was ready to get home, sit on the balcony and read a book over a glass of wine. I glanced at my wrist watch, hoping it would read six o’clock. I frowned. We still had a quarter of an hour until closing.
As if on cue, the front door opened, bringing a fresh sea breeze rushing inside.
My circle skirt billowed around my calves and blew a swathe of dark curls across my face. “Merde! Le vent,” I grumbled, annoyed by the way the wind always twisted my hair into knots.
A tall, slim woman in pink Capri pants and crisp white blouse closed the door behind her. Large dark sunglasses and a headscarf concealed most of her face. “That’s some breeze! It reminds me a little of California,” she remarked, moving quickly to the far corner of the shop, away from the windows.
I noted the woman’s elegance and soft American accent. Another tourist.
“Good afternoon, mademoiselle.” Natalie jumped into action, switching easily into her heavily accented English. Working in a town that attracted so many tourists meant having a good grasp of the English language. Papa had been quite firm about this. “May I help you find something in particular?” she prompted. “We have a divine new perfume we’ve just developed. Printemps a la Riviera. Spring on the Riviera. It’s very popular with the Americans.”
“I’ll just take a look around first, thank you.” The woman picked up a bottle, turned it over, and placed it back on the shelf without smelling a sample. She picked up another and did the same before throwing an anxious look over her shoulder, towards the door.
I studied her from behind the desk. She hadn’t removed her sunglasses, and her behaviour was a little odd. It was almost as if she were hiding from someone. Her clothes were pristine. A Hermes handbag hung from her arm. Her blond hair was tucked neatly beneath a colorful headscarf. Upon closer inspection, she appeared to be breathing hard.
“Mademoiselle, can I help you?” I offered, stepping forward.
She flinched and turned. Giving me a shy smile, she approached the counter. A cloud of vanilla and lilac enveloped me. An oriental perfume with a heavy floral bouquet and vanilla base note. It didn’t quite suit her.
She removed her sunglasses and smiled. “Yes, you can help me, actually. If you would be so kind.”
My reply stuck in my throat. Eyes the color of the Mediterranean stared back at me as I stared at her creamy skin and strong straight nose, perfectly sculpted lips and cheekbones —I knew that elegant face. I’d seen it a dozen times on the cover of magazines. I’d seen it on the big screen. A firm favourite of Madame Marais.
“Grace Kelly,” I whispered.
Natalie stood dumbstruck, her feather duster poised in mid-air.
“Yes,” Miss Kelly replied with a slight giggle, casting another nervous glance over her shoulder. “I’m Grace.” She held out a white-gloved hand. “Hello!”
I took her hand, thinking vaguely how American her greeting was, but I couldn’t make my lips move to say anything in reply. The one Hollywood star I knew something about, the most beautiful and famous woman in the world, was standing in front of me. In my shop.
“You were going to help me?” Grace prompted, sweetly.
I cleared my throat. “Yes, of course. I apologize. How can I … What can I do for you, Mademoiselle Kelly?”
“Please, call me Grace.”
I noted the sincerity in her voice, and despite my racing pulse, managed a smile. “Of course. What can I do for you? Grace.”
She leaned closer as if to divulge a secret. “I’m being followed by a photographer. He’s terribly persistent. I thought I’d given him the slip, but he reappeared on the promenade. I ducked behind a palm tree and raced across the street, and, well, here I am. It sounds rather like a scene from a movie, doesn’t it!” Relief and annoyance warred in her eyes. “I think I’ve lost him, but is there another exit from your store? Just in case. They can be terribly persistent.”
I nodded. “There’s an exit through the back, but it’s very close to the street. He might see you.” She looked a little disappointed. “Perhaps if you waited in my office for a few minutes, he’ll be on his way and you can duck out then,” I suggested. “Will that do?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you.” She touched my hand with hers. “Thank you so much. I only wanted to take a walk through this beautiful town. Escape the madness of the film festival for a few hours. I suppose I was silly to hope for such a thing.”
There was something a little melancholy in her tone, a childlike vulnerability I didn’t expect from someone in her position.
“Can we perhaps interest you in trying a new perfume today, Mademoiselle Kelly?” Natalie offered, sliding behind the desk with her usual easy charm.
Though her tone was professional, I knew what she was up to, and shot her a warning look. She wanted to gossip with her friends about how she’d sold perfume to Grace Kelly, but now was not the time to play saleswoman.
“Perhaps another time, Natalie,” I interjected. “Please, Grace. Follow me.”
I fished the keys from my handbag and flipped through them to find the right one. All the while, I tried to ignore my excitement and nerves, while the strong fragrance Grace wore irritated my nose. Vanilla was a bold scent. Generic but comforting, reminding many of home. But it also covered deep insecurities. Papa used to say that those who wore a bold scent might have a large personality on the surface, but they often longed for approval.
“To be a parfumeur is to be a psychologist.” That was the second lesson Papa taught me. He said that everyone had a view of themselves but wished to be something more. Our job as parfumeurs was to uncover what that something more was, and make it for them. Papa was extraordinarily good at guessing someone’s secrets, but I couldn’t help wondering if he were wrong about vanilla. At least this time. I doubted Grace Kelly covered any deeply hidden insecurities.
“Why don’t you allow me, Sophie?” Natalie offered. “I’d be happy to show Miss Kelly to the cozy chaise in your office, and escort her out of the back door when it’s time. I know you like to do a quick inventory of the shelves before you leave.”
Though I’d have liked to spend more time with Miss Kelly, I couldn’t very well argue with Natalie without looking foolish.
Grace held out her hand to me. “Merci, Sophie, is it?”
I nodded. “Sophie Duval.”
Her eyes lit up in a smile. “Ah. Duval Perfumes. You’re the owner?”
“Well, thank you again, Sophie Duval. I won’t forget your kindness.”
“I hope you might return to our shop under better circumstances, one day.”
“I’d like that very much,” she said, her blue eyes twinkling.
As Natalie closed the storage door behind them, the front door opened again. A rather tall man peered inside as he stood half in and half out of the shop. He wore a rather old-fashioned fedora hat and a shabby leather jacket, clearly underdressed for May on the Riviera. I noticed the bag slung over his shoulder and the camera nestled against his chest. It had to be the photographer chasing Miss Kelly.
“Pardon me, monsieur, we are just closing,” I said in French, not bothering to hide the irritation from my voice. “We open again tomorrow at nine o’clock.”
In faltering French he asked if Grace Kelly had come into the shop. His accent was almost comical.
I pursed my lips. English. The worst kind of press hound. The pale skin, the dishevelled appearance, the swagger. The inability to leave celebrities alone.
I sniffed in a short breath and replied in English. “I’m not in the habit of telling strangers whom I have and haven’t sold perfumes to, monsieur. It’s bad for business, and frankly, none of yours.”
He regarded me a moment through golden brown eyes and burst into laughter. “Well, aren’t you perfectly French.”
I felt heat rising to my face. How did Miss Kelly put up with such awful people bothering her all the time?
“You don’t have to tell me what she bought,” he pressed. “Just whether or not she came in here.” I raised a quizzical brow at him, incredulous he should try to jockey for information. “The name’s Henderson, by the way,” he added, extending a hand. “James. Not that I suppose it matters.”
Seeing my expression and realizing I wasn’t going to divulge any information, he shrugged. He let his shoulders drop as he took off his hat and ran his hands through his hair, sending it sticking up every which way. I bit my lip to stop myself laughing.
“Thing is, Miss, I’m having a hell of a day and if I don’t get a decent picture of her – of anyone important, really – I might not have a job to go home to and the cat will be terribly disappointed in me. Not that it’s of any concern to you, but, well, that’s how it is.” He held his hands out in front of him. “Help out a useless English chap, would you?” He tilted his head to one side. “Merci beaucoup?”
I was suddenly very busy straightening the tissue paper and rolls of ribbon beneath the register. “I can’t help you, monsieur,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed firmly on the counter. “If you are so incompetent at your job, I doubt a small perfume boutique can save you.” I glanced up at him.
A wide grin split his face. “Quite right. I’m a ridiculous fool and should be on my way.” He touched the brim of his hat in salutation and turned to go but as he reached the door, he turned as if he’d had a second thought. “Actually, before I go, can I ask what perfume it is you’re wearing? It’s really rather lovely.”
I looked up to meet his gaze. “And you are rude—”
A flash went off. Blinded by the light, my hand flew to my eyes. “What are you doing?”
He shrugged. “If I can’t have a photograph of Grace Kelly, I might as well have one of a furious French girl.” With that, he left, laughing as he closed the door behind him.
Furious French girl? How dare he! As I roughly turned the shop sign to closed, I watched him light a cigarette and saunter off down the street. The familiar scent of leather and balsam lingered in the shop where he’d stood, provoking memories of happier times.
That was the third lesson Papa taught me. “To be a parfumeur is to be a keeper of memories, Sophie. Every scent will remind you of something, or someone.”
It was only as I walked back to the office, and Miss Kelly, that I realized who the English photographer reminded me of.
James Henderson reminded me of Papa.
From the book, Meet Me in Monaco. Copyright ©2019 by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. Reprinted with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.