As she drew closer she saw the balloonists weren’t men at all but boys, not much older than she. One of them—small, thin in his shirtsleeves—was pulling hard on a rope tied to the balloon’s opening over the brazier. “The release valve is broken, Lazare!” he yelled.

“Whose fault is that?” the other one said. Behind him, his hair streamed out like a flag, his cravat a flash of white under his soot-streaked face.


“If we’d had enough ballast, we wouldn’t be in this predicament!” the dark-haired one shouted back. His face was tight with fear.

Far away, as if in a dream, Sophie called her name.

Camille was almost there. She saw how the gondola was fashioned only of woven willow branches, with simple leather straps holding its door closed; she saw how the taut ropes vibrated with strain. It was so fragile. In an instant, it could be smashed. Smoke poured from the brazier as the white-faced boy braced himself against the basket’s edge.

Faster. Faster. She forced her legs to pump.

The chariot thudded hard against the ground. The basket did not break; the boys clung on.

Four lengths. Two lengths. Then she was an arm’s-length away.

Crouched against the railing, the black-haired boy braved a smile, his eyes on Camille as she ran alongside them. “Save us, mademoiselle! Grab the edge!”

In his gaze, she saw herself as someone else. Someone who might do something.

She grabbed the gondola with both hands.

The balloon’s momentum yanked her into the air. Under her feet, the field rushed sickeningly away. Scrambling over the objects in the gondola, the black-haired one grabbed her arms and pulled her higher. “Hold tight, mademoiselle, and watch your feet!” he shouted into the wind.

“Don’t let go,” she managed to say. His face was so near she saw the flecks of gold in his eyes, the determination in his face.

One agonizing breath.

Two. Three breaths.

And then it was over. With a sudden shudder, the balloon plunged to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust. The gondola rocked and then was still. Camille clung on, breathless, her mouth sandy with grit. Her legs were shaking so badly she wished she could sink to her knees, right there, in the dirt.

The boy was laughing.

Camille wiped the dirt from her mouth. “This is funny?”

“We’re not dead!” The boy threw an arm around his friend, then reached out to Camille. “But you, mademoiselle! You saved us!”

A wild laugh burst out of her. She had. She, Camille Durbonne, whose only talent, according to Alain, was to briefly turn nails to coins, had saved them. And yet, here stood both boys, unbroken and solid.

“I was happy to do it,” she said, and she meant it.

The other boy sighed. “We were never in any danger.”

“Never in any danger?” Camille couldn’t help herself. “What would you have done if I hadn’t been here? Your balloon would have smashed to pieces!”

“Bah,” the other one said. “It would have bounced.”

But the dark-haired one, the one who had held her as they raced above the earth, didn’t reply. Instead, he leaned on the basket’s edge and looked at her.

Even beneath the soot and dirt, he was ridiculously handsome, with his warm, copper-brown skin and glossy ebony hair. High, finely cut cheekbones set off his deep-brown eyes, which were fringed with lashes a girl might envy. Black, expressive eyebrows curved above them; a scar skipped through the left one, slicing it in half. But what was most striking about him was that his whole face was animated with a kind of light that made him the most alive thing in the landscape. As if an artist, sketching out the scene, had used a gray pencil to draw everything except one figure, on which he’d lavished his richest paints.

“Incroyable,” the boy said.

“What is?” Camille wondered.

“You have to ask?” he said, surprised. “You, of course. Our rescuer.” Leaping lightly over the basket’s edge, he stood suddenly in front of her. “Lazare Mellais,” he said, bowing very low, “your servant, for life.”

She curtsied. “Camille Durbonne.”

“Mademoiselle Durbonne, there aren’t many people I can say this about, but after what you did today, I’d hazard that your disregard for your own life is probably equal to mine.”

She wouldn’t have thought that before today. The way he was looking at her made her feel braver. A bit reckless. “What else is there to do with a life than spend it?”

“Fetch the champagne, Armand,” the boy said, his gaze not leaving her. “Let’s celebrate.”

“I’m not your servant,” the pale boy snapped from inside the basket. “Besides, it’s going to rain.”

It was true. Behind the trees, anvil-shaped clouds loomed. Their bottoms were iron-gray with rain. Soon the storm would be upon them.

“I know it’s going to rain,” Lazare said. “Tell me, quickly—why did you do it?”

Camille shifted her weight, uncomfortable. How could she explain? After her parents died, her life had become so narrow, tight as a fetter. But sometimes surviving wasn’t enough. A person needed more than a roof and food. She needed to hope, to believe she could do something.

“I thought I could,” she said.

Gita Trelease's Books