SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Stars in Their Eyes by Pema Donyo

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This beautifully sweeping story of dueling ambitions and restless hearts in the roaring twenties will captivate fans who loved the romance of La La Land.

The bohemian salons and wild cabarets of 1920s Paris are just the place for Owen Matthews to pursue his writing and make the right connections in the literary scene. But six years after leaving Los Angeles and the love of his life, he still strives for success. Penning a new screenplay for his friend’s film might just help keep the lights on a bit longer in the City of Lights.

Iris Wong is used to sacrifice and rejection as an Asian-American actress. She’s determined to take full advantage of her new leading role in a Parisian silent film—and the director’s romantic interest in her. Playing the game almost guarantees she’ll be able to break through the industry’s racism and become the silver screen star she’s dreamed of being since she earned her first nickel as a Hollywood extra.

When these two star-crossed lovers unexpectedly reunite, they get a second chance to reconcile their hearts’ desires with their dreams of fame and fortune.

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EXCERPT

A group of women in cloche hats giggled over coffees at a table. Beside them stood a group of children covered head to toe in wool clothes, selling lilies from woven baskets, waving the fresh flowers toward the women.

A clink of glass hitting marble jerked her attention back to Pierre. He swore in French and grabbed a napkin, dotting his lap. He must have knocked over the wine bottle; the red liquid streamed over the tablecloth and toward him. She righted the bottle as he pushed his chair away from the table.

“Forgive me, excusez-moi . . . ”

“It’s fine; accidents happen.”

“No, no, clumsy of me, I apologize.”

She caught a glimpse of the dark stain on his plum trousers before he headed inside the café, likely to find a sink or at least a pail of water to wash it out.

She traced a finger around the rim of her nearly full wine goblet. The children moved farther down the avenue and passed by her. The mother wielded the largest basket of flowers and used it to gesture across the street. She crossed, and three of the children followed. The youngest, a girl wearing a bright red beret, trailed behind her siblings. Iris winced as the girl tripped against a raised cobblestone and fell forward, scattering her flowers on the ground. Her family ahead of her didn’t seem to notice. The girl started to gather the lilies, one by one placing the delicate stems back into her basket.

A canary-yellow roadster sped down the road. Its speed was dangerous on such a crowded street. The girl needed to move. Yet she plucked the flowers from the road without a glance upward. The hairs on the back of Iris’s neck stood up. Why didn’t anyone help her? The driver made exaggerated gesticulations as he spoke to the woman in the passenger seat, both more absorbed in each other than the road ahead.

Across the street, a tall man angled his head toward the child’s direction. He started walking toward the girl, his pace quickening as the car came closer. Iris stepped toward the road, too, yelling at the girl. The child looked up at her. Before Iris could reach her, the man broke into a sprint and pushed the girl out of the roadster’s way. The vehicle brushed past them moments afterward, speeding ahead in a tremendous gust of air.

The driver swore and honked his horn. “Get out of the road!” he yelled.

She ran toward them both. The girl was crying, and her remaining lilies lay flattened in the center of the road. Iris crouched down and held her hands.

“Are you all right, dear?”

She nodded, wiping away her tears with the flat ends of her palms.

Quick footsteps followed a cry of Romanian words as her mother joined the party.

She said something to the girl, and the child pressed her face into her mother’s thick skirt.

“Thank you,” she said to Iris.

Iris shook her head. She wasn’t due any thanks.

“Don’t thank me, thank . . . ” Her voice trailed off as she pointed toward the man.

Iris supposed she had looked at him before he crossed the street, but she hadn’t really seen him. His light brown hair fell over his forehead in soft waves, appearing almost fluffy under the sun’s rays. Blue eyes stared back at her in recognition. His shoulders looked broader than she remembered, and light stubble grazed his jaw and upper lip.

“No need to thank me,” he said to the woman. He held up his hands as if he wanted no praise. Once the child and her mother started back to the other side of the road, he met Iris’s gaze.

He chuckled. “It’s been a damn long time.”

She nodded, a lump rising in her throat. She had rehearsed so many lines to say to him if they ever saw each other again. An endless cache of words—gone. Images crossed her mind instead: standing on the dim street as his car pulled away. She had waited until it disappeared around the bend of the road and the rumble of its engine faded away. She would see him again, she’d told herself. Paris was an ocean away; he wouldn’t really leave. It couldn’t be over. Her legs had burned to run after the car.

“Owen! Is that you?” Pierre waved at them both and gestured to them to join him at the table.

Iris moved as fast as her T-strap heels would take her. Against her better judgment, she placed her palm against one of her cheeks. Burning hot. Hopefully, Owen wouldn’t notice. At the table, she ignored the slight shaking of her hands as she poured herself a glass of water.

Pierre clapped a hand on Owen’s back. “This is my friend Owen Matthews, our film’s screenwriter.”

He had changed a bit, at least physically. His arms appeared more muscular. She’d sworn he had been incapable of growing facial hair back in the days when they used to steal kisses on his parents’ porch. And the deep tan that had settled over his skin was gone. Or perhaps her recollection of him betrayed her. Her memory blurred the edges, making her unsure of what she remembered.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pema Donyo lives in sunny Southern California, where she balances plotting her next novel and watching too many Bollywood movies. Find Pema Donyo at https://pemadonyo.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @PemaDonyo.

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