Joachim von Hartmann was born and raised in Buenos Aires by his loving German mother, inseparable from his identical twin, Javier. When Joachim moves to Paris with his mother in his late teens, his twin stays behind and enters a dark world. Meanwhile, Joachim begins training to be a butler, fascinated by the precision and intense demands, and goes on to work in some of the grandest homes in England. His brother never reappears.
Olivia White has given ten years of her life to her magazine, which failed, taking all her dreams with it. A bequest from her mother allows her a year in Paris to reinvent herself. She needs help setting up a home in a charming Parisian apartment. It is then that her path and Joachim’s cross.
Joachim takes a job working for Olivia as a lark and enjoys the whimsy of a different life for a few weeks, which turn to months as the unlikely employer and employee learn they enjoy working side by side. At the same time, Joachim discovers the family history he never knew: a criminal grandfather who died in prison, the wealthy father who abandoned him, and the dangerous criminal his twin has become. While Olivia struggles to put her life back together, Joachim’s comes apart.
Stripped of their old roles, they strive to discover the truth about each other and themselves, first as employer and employee, then as friends. Their paths no longer sure, they are a man and woman who reach a place where the past doesn’t matter and only what they are living now is true.
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About the Author
Hometown:San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:August 14, 1947
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:Educated in France. Also attended Parsons School of Design, 1963, and New York University, 1963-67
Read an Excerpt
The moment the plane touched down at Ministro Pistarini de Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, Joachim von Hartmann knew in every fiber of his being that he was home. It was almost as if his heart and soul, and even his body, knew it. He had left as a boy of seventeen, twenty-five years before, when he’d moved to France with his mother and new French stepfather. Eight years later, he went to England on a lark, which turned into a worthy career for the past seventeen years. His roots were now firmly planted in Europe, but Joachim realized as he breathed the air of Buenos Aires that his heart had remained here. He had never fully cut the cord that bound him to Argentina. There was a magic to it that was still in his blood.
This was a long-awaited pilgrimage to the place where he had been born. All his boyhood memories were here, and what he had been too young to remember, his mother had told him again and again as he grew up. He felt as though he had never left as he came off the plane, like an old childhood friendship, or a great love.
Both his name and his tall, thin, aristocratic looks, with blond hair and blue eyes, were familiar in Argentina. With the influx of Irish, English, and German immigrants over the years, Argentines with German and Anglo-Saxon surnames and looks were not unusual. On his mother’s side, all of Joachim’s ancestors were German, originally from Bavaria and later from Berlin. His father, whom he never knew, had been from a distinguished banking family in Argentina. He had died when Joachim was less than a year old, and the rest of his father’s family had died within a few years, so Joachim never knew them either. The mainstays of Joachim’s life growing up had been his mother, Liese, and his identical twin brother, Javier. Joachim had a special relationship with his brother because they were twins. He felt at times as though they were two halves of the same person.
Joachim’s German maternal grandfather, Gunther von Hartmann, had been widowed when his wife was killed in the Allied bombings of Germany. Like others who could still afford to leave, he hadn’t wanted to stay in Germany and live through the disarray and reconstruction of the country. He was accustomed to a genteel world that no longer existed after the war. As soon as possible after the war, he had taken his five-year-old daughter, Liese, and what was left of his once-vast family fortune, and moved to Buenos Aires, rather than be treated as a defeated enemy in Germany. He had enough left to live extremely well in Argentina, which wouldn’t have been the case in Europe. Argentina was a country that welcomed the Germans who had chosen to settle there, as they had been doing for generations.
Joachim had never lived in Germany, and knew very little about it, or his mother’s life there, except that she had experienced great wealth and luxury as a young girl, first in Germany and then in Argentina. But his mother had often told him about the beautiful house where she grew up with her father in Buenos Aires. It was filled with antiques, and the fine works of art her father had been able to bring with him. He had a passion for the beauty of art in all its forms and had passed it on to his daughter. She had told Joachim too of the pretty finca they had outside of the city, where they spent weekends, and the many servants her father employed. They had never gone back to Germany, even for a visit. They had no one left there. Gunther von Hartmann had only his daughter in the years after the war. He had nothing left in Germany, and he had forged a new life in Argentina. They spent their holidays in Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil, and other parts of Argentina. Gunther had no desire to see Germany or Europe again, and Liese no longer remembered it. He became an Argentine citizen, and Liese grew up feeling entirely Argentinian. Her father never remarried. She went to the best schools in Buenos Aires, and she eventually married Alejandro Canal, the son of one of the city’s finest banking families. She lived in what seemed to her a perfect world, as she remembered it and described it to Joachim. Her only sorrow, once married, was their inability to have children. She and her husband, Alejandro, had been married for ten very happy, fairly glamorous years, and had given up hope of having children, when by some miracle she conceived and gave birth to Joachim and his identical twin brother, Javier. She was thirty-nine when they were born. She told her sons that their birth was the happiest time of her life, but it all ended in tragedy a year later.
Her father, whom she adored, died suddenly at seventy-three, four months after the twins were born. Her husband, Alejandro, was killed in a riding accident three months later, as she told her sons when they were older. She rapidly discovered after her father’s death that his money had been poorly invested and he died leaving her nothing. Her husband’s family lost everything they had in the political upheavals that shook the country and left many of the previously wealthy penniless. By the time Joachim and Javier were a year old, Liese was living in a small apartment. Her in-laws’ bank was bankrupt and they were unable to help her. She explained that her father-in-law had mishandled the bank’s funds in desperation, and to spare her sons embarrassment later, she took back her maiden name, von Hartmann, and gave it to her sons as well.
Unlike his mother in her privileged youth, Joachim had grown up in modest circumstances. He had never known anything different, and neither he nor his twin, Javier, was unhappy. They lived in a poor neighborhood where there were always other children to play with, and their small apartment was a loving, warm home, thanks to their mother. They had food on the table, decent clothes, the basic necessities of life, and a mother who loved them. It had always seemed like more than enough to Joachim, who didn’t hunger for more. Javier had a less contented nature as he got older, and in his early teens he argued with everyone and reproached their mother for what they didn’t have. He had begun to notice the inequities between the rich and the poor in Argentina and was angry about the injustice of it. Joachim was content and satisfied with what they had. And it began to cause dissent between the two brothers, although Joachim loved his twin unconditionally.
Their mother had studied art history at the university before she got married, and had also been carefully schooled by her father, who knew a great deal about art, particularly the Impressionists. When the bottom fell out of her world, after her husband’s and father’s deaths, Liese was able to get a job she loved as a curator of French art at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Argentina. The job was poorly paid, but she was respected for her expertise and extensive knowledge of art. She tried to share her passion for art with her sons, but neither of them was particularly interested. They preferred playing soccer and other sports with their friends in the street.
They were fifteen when Liese met Francois Legrand, an art expert from the Louvre in Paris, who came to Buenos Aires to verify the authenticity of several paintings that the museum had recently acquired. Although she had always led a retiring life, and spent all her free time with her boys, she and Francois fell madly in love. After his visit, they maintained a constant correspondence, and he came back to Buenos Aires several times to see her. She was fifty-four when she met him. As with the birth of the twins, meeting Francois Legrand seemed like a miracle to her. There had been no man in her life for years, and it had never occurred to either of her sons that that could change. They were the center of her universe before, and even after, she met Francois. The correspondence with Francois Legrand and his occasional visits had gone on for two years. He was sixty-four, ten years older than Liese, and had been widowed for many years as well, with no children of his own. He wanted to marry Liese and bring her and her sons to Paris. He had even found a job for her at the Louvre. He was by no means a rich man, but had lived carefully, and could support her and the boys comfortably, and provide them a security they didn’t have living on their mother’s meager salary. Francois was genuinely fond of the boys and loved Liese deeply.
His relationship with Joachim was easy. He was a happy-go-lucky boy who didn’t require more from life than what he had. He was planning to go to university in Buenos Aires but hadn’t found his direction yet. He wanted nothing more than his happy, easy life, among his friends in Buenos Aires.
Javier, by contrast, was always the voice of discontent. He became angry as a teenager, at not having a father, at the money his family had lost before he was born, at what they didn’t have, at being the youngest twin by eleven minutes. He resented his brother for that. He was hard on Joachim, who forgave him all, because they were twins. Joachim was unfailingly loyal to him.