Last summer I published Urban Legends, the first novel in the Not Like Paradise trilogy. The second novel, Pandora’s Box, will be coming in June! As promised, below is an excerpt. If you’ve read Urban Legends, it ended with Jansen and Jason leaving Cindy’s house in South Carolina and heading to the airport, not knowing where they would fly. Here’s a peek at what comes next… 😉
(If you haven’t read Urban Legends yet, check it out here.)
Pandora’s Box Sneak Peek!
Jansen and Jason flew to Paris.
It had long been Jansen’s favorite city besides New York. It was high fashion, dirty streets, astonishingly beautiful architecture, pretentious food, cafés on every corner, some of the best art in the world, centuries of tragic and triumphant history, and a haze of cigarette smoke. It was mysterious, intriguing, and impersonal…a bold, careless, beautiful face turned to the world, completely content with its identity and uninterested in the opinions of anyone. It was exactly where Jansen wanted to be…
…They got ready, left the hotel holding hands, and walked to the closest Métro station. They rode to the 4th arrondissement and walked along the old streets of Le Marais until they found a bookstore. They wandered in and browsed the titles, looking for anything that struck them as interesting or romantic or tragic or intrinsically Parisian…a book that captured some essence of this city they both loved.
Jason stopped to pull a book off a shelf, and Jansen let go of his hand and continued walking slowly down the aisle.
“Regarde ça,” Jason said, his voice quiet.
Jansen heard the piqued interest in it. She turned.
Jason held a book out to her.
Jansen took one look at it and felt her heart race a little. “Oui. Ça y est.”
Le Paradis Souterrain.
Paradise Underground, or The Underground Paradise, depending how you translated it. The picture was of an underground passageway littered with bones.
She and Jason shared a small grin, then hurried to the front, excited to get to a café and dive into their find…
…They had both heard vaguely of the Paris Catacombs before, but it wasn’t a place either of them had visited, and they knew little about it or its history. Jansen wondered if maybe people went there to worship the dead or something creepy, and that was how those dead had now become “revered.” It sounded really cool though…a tunnel under the city lined with remains of people who had been dead for centuries. It would be fun to go.
They turned the page to the next chapter, and that’s when they realized the first chapter had really been nothing more than a surface story, a necessary histoire before they got to the real content of the book…
The “underground paradise” named in the title had nothing to do with the remains of dead people found in the Ossuary…the couple kilometers of tunnel making up the Ossuary was literally only a fraction of the former quarries, or what Parisians considered les catacombes. The tunnels stretched for an estimated three hundred miles under Paris in an intricate maze. Many of the passageways contained nothing of interest, and some were flooded with water or blocked by cave-ins. The tunnels were described as illegal and dangerous, because you were as likely to encounter escaped criminals, who supposedly entered the tunnels from a secret passageway under La Santé Prison in the 14th arrondissement, as you were a member of the special division of Paris police who were responsible solely for patrolling the tunnels with their dogs.
But the tunnels were also described as alluring and irresistibly tempting, because tucked in the deepest recesses of the maze, if you knew where to look, were rumored meeting places of secret societies such as the Illuminati, former wartime hideouts, squatter villages with electricity and untraceable phone lines, and amphitheatres carved into the rock where people called cataphiles—those who frequented this underground otherworld—came to throw highly illegal and insanely outrageous multiple-day parties.
This was the Paradise. It had nothing to do with dead people at all, and everything to do with taking a risk to obtain an unparalleled reward. Sneaking away to give in to your fantasies or simply to escape to another realm where the laws of society didn’t exist.
The last few chapters claimed that while police were constantly blocking off newly discovered entrances into the Catacombs, secret access points existed all over Paris. They were ladders inside manholes or drain shafts, abandoned tunnels underneath Métro stations. You had to stumble across one, or you had to find somebody willing to take you. The author told of several specific ones he had heard of and tried, but every single one had been sealed…blocked off by police if it had ever been a way in.
The very last chapter, entitled “Une boîte de Pandore,” warned again about the dangers of going, including cave-ins, floods, drug dealers and addicts, escaped prisoners, and the possibility of getting lost or arrested, but said if one was going to try, the absolute essentials were boots, flashlights, and a map.
Jansen and Jason turned another page and found an estimated map, one that mirrored the streets of Old Paris, as it was rumored the streets had been aligned directly over the quarries and that street signs could even be found in the tunnels, labeling the city streets above. Based on all the research the author had done, his map even included the locations of some supposed secret rooms, but he was very clear that it was just an inference and shouldn’t be used as an actual guide.
Jansen closed the book and looked at Jason.
“There must be some kickass parties down there on New Year’s Eve,” Jason said with a wicked grin.
Jansen grinned back. “I’m not afraid of a little Pandora’s box.”
“All we need is a map and a way in.”
…They had walked only a little way when Jansen spotted something down a cross tunnel they were passing.
“Oh my gosh, look,” she said, shining her flashlight to the right. She stepped into the passageway, her mouth falling open.
All over its walls were paintings of a woman with long reddish-brown hair. Jansen quickly realized the walls were a mural of Paris, with the woman at all the different landmarks. The Tuileries Gardens, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, a sidewalk café, a boat on the Seine, a street market, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde. In each scene the lady was disproportionately large compared to the buildings and the other regular-sized people who interacted around her.
“Look,” Jason said from back in the entryway. He was looking at something above his head.
Jansen went back to see what it was, and she realized there was actually a small arch formed in the entrance.
“Le paradis de Pandore,” she read aloud. Her heart skipped a beat. “Pandora’s Paradise?!”
Jason had moved inside. “Look,” he said again. “All the people in the pictures are fighting.”
Jansen looked closer, and it was immediately apparent. Their faces were angry, their arms raised or crossed as they yelled at one another, their mouths open in frozen shouts whose words would never be heard. At Place de la Concorde, a man was bent over the guillotine, its blade raised and ready to strike.
But one face wasn’t angry. In every depiction of Pandora, she was smiling…a small, delighted curl of her lips.
“It’s her Paradise because she set all the bad things free,” Jansen said. “Hate, and anger, and vengeance.” It was just like the myth, in which Pandora had opened the jar that released everything bad and evil into the world.
“I wonder who painted this,” Jason said. “And if the author of that book knew about it. The first one we read, in Le Marais? He didn’t mention it, but the title had the word paradise in it, and he called that one chapter ‘Pandora’s Box.’ ”
“He implied that to come down here would be to open a Pandora’s box.” Jansen looked at Jason. “And that’s why it’s her Paradise. People get lost, or arrested, or run into prisoners or floods or…whatever.”
Jason nodded. “Exactly.”
Jansen looked around at the painting again, slightly horrified and immensely more intrigued.
“She looks like you,” Jason said.
“All these pictures of Pandora. She has your hair color, and she’s young. And beautiful.”
Jansen looked at Jason, but he wasn’t even looking at her. He hadn’t been trying to be sweet; he’d just said it matter-of-factly. Her heart melted, and she smiled in his direction.
Then she looked back to the nearest painting of Pandora. “She looks like my mom too.” Jansen wrinkled her nose. “How fucking ironic, ‘cause my mom’s like the modern-day Pandora. Everything evil in the world is here because of her.”
“Except you,” Jason said, finally looking at her.
“You’re here ‘cause of her. And you’re not evil. No matter what all your mom’s done, I’m still glad she was born, and that she moved to New York and married your dad. ‘Cause otherwise I wouldn’t have you.”
Jansen’s heart melted again, and she felt tears well up in the corners of her eyes. She ran to Jason and threw her arms around his neck.
He hugged her back tightly. “It’s just the truth,” he said.
“I’m so glad I have you too. You’re my Paradise. I really am happiest when we’re together. I really am only truly happy when we’re together.”
“I’m really glad we came here,” Jason said.
“To Paris, or the Catacombs?”
“Me too.” Suddenly something else on the wall caught Jansen’s eye, and she stepped out of Jason’s arms and walked over to it. It was cursive writing etched through the middle of the mural.
“La plus belle femme du monde dans la plus belle ville du monde,” she read aloud. “The most beautiful woman in the world in the most beautiful city in the world.”
“Pandora was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world?” Jason asked. He had come up beside her to read the writing too.
“Yeah.” Jansen looked back at her picture. “And she is a lot like Paris. She’s considered the most beautiful, but she doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s bold and her reputation speaks for itself, but not a lot of people know the real her. She’s…devious. She has secrets.”
“That’s kinda like you too,” Jason said.
Jansen looked at him in surprise. “Yeah, I guess it is.” She smiled. “And it’s everything I love about Paris too.”
“Well,” Jason said, “the most beautiful girl and the most beautiful city should have a few things in common, don’t you think?” He looked away, shrugging and making his face aloof. “I think they should.”
Jansen laughed and hit him in the shoulder. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess they should.”