PARIS Sex, diamonds and rivalry swirl in the latest chapter of the soap opera gripping France -- the story of President Nicolas Sarkozy's love life.
Adding new spice to the unfolding tale, one magazine, Gala, said Sarkozy had offered the same kind of pink, heart-shaped, diamond ring to new girlfriend Carla Bruni as his ex-wife Cecilia had been seen wearing only a few months ago.
And Cecilia tried to block on Thursday the publication of one of three new books into her life that quoted her making a string of disparaging remarks about Sarkozy.
Sarkozy and Cecilia divorced abruptly in October and the president met Bruni, an Italian supermodel-turned-pop star, in November. The president hinted this week that the pair might soon wed and the speed of their romance has stunned France.
Pictures of a holidaying Sarkozy, 52, in gold necklace and sunglasses as he embraced Bruni, 40, have dominated glossy magazines, while newspapers devote their front pages to "President Bling-Bling" and his glamorous Italian lover.
Rumors abounded on Thursday that a secret marriage was imminent, but the former first lady Cecilia, 50, is not expected to vanish from the scene quietly.
"Cecilia is convinced that Carla Bruni is not the woman to make Sarkozy forget her that quickly," said Yves Derai, author of "Ruptures", one of the three books that delve into the life of the president's former wife.
"I'M THE ONE HE LISTENS TO"
The role of Cecilia, like Bruni a tall brunette and former model, has intrigued France since Sarkozy and she first briefly separated in 2005.
Cecilia, whom French media describe as an enigma, made few public appearances during her husband's election campaign and his first months in office.
She was quoted as describing Sarkozy's personality and parenting skills in unflattering terms in the book "Cecilia" by Anna Bitton, also due out this week. But her lawyer said Cecilia had taken legal action to hold up publication.
"She objects to how her intimate feelings are being put on display and the comments attributed to her," Jean-Yves Dupeux told Reuters.
All three books describe Cecilia as a powerful woman whose influence on Sarkozy did not cease when they separated.
In "Ruptures", Derai says Cecilia handed Sarkozy a memorandum at the time of their divorce, including "a list of everything he should accomplish or avoid doing if he wants to succeed in his five-year term".
"She supposedly also mentioned the names of those he should never trust, but also those authentic loyal people he could count on," Derai and co-author Michael Darmon write.
Cecilia had no doubts about her future role, the book says.
"They think I'm no longer present, but I'm more so than before," it quotes her as saying. "As I'm not asking for anything, I'll remain the only one he really listens to."
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; editing by Andrew Roche)