In 1936, young Ondine Belange’s parents give her a mission: deliver lunch daily from their Café Paradis to a reclusive man renting a nearby villa. They swear her to silence, for the patron’s name is Pablo Picasso.
Picasso has fled Paris, his wife, and mistress for the picturesque countryside of Juan-les-Pins. Ondine soon finds herself swept up in the artist’s adventures, meeting Matisse and Cocteau; witnessing jealous fights between Picasso’s mistresses; posing for a series of portraits; and even taking him briefly as her lover. He sees her as an artist in her own right—a culinary artist. Yet Picasso disappears just as suddenly as he appeared, leaving Ondine more passionately awakened to the possibilities of her own life. Her parents have unfortunately arranged a marriage that will secure their business but personally disappoints her. Luckily, Ondine’s long-lost true love, Luc, returns in the nick of time to sweep her out of France. They land in New York, opening their own successful restaurant and raising their daughter, Julie. Years later, Julie gives her own daughter, Céline, Ondine’s notebook of recipes, a letter written the day of Céline’s birth, and clues suggesting that Picasso left Ondine more than memories—perhaps a painting was hidden among Ondine’s effects! A little sluggish at first, with chapters told from a wide-eyed young Ondine’s perspective, Aubray’s story picks up the pace and ratchets up the tension when Céline’s dastardly stepfather and twin half siblings enter the picture. Determined to cut Céline off from any inheritance, they machinate devious obstacles to keep her from her mother, setting in motion a quest for the missing Picasso worthy of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. As with any good quest, the heroine finds love along the way, too.
An amuse-bouche filled with secret ingredients, covert liaisons, and hidden compartments.