Will She Stay? Will She Go? France's Enigmatic First Lady

Their tumultuous love story seems better suited to a soap opera than the front pages of a daily newspaper, but there it is: France's first couple is famous neither because of their shared passion for politics à la the Clintons nor for the reassuring domesticity suggested by the Reagans.

In the weeks leading up to the French presidential election, as the leading candidates Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy canvassed for votes, one of the many questions troubling the French public was: "Where is Madame Sarkozy?"

Even as Bernadette Chirac, the wife of Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, turned up at his final rally in a show of support, Cécilia Sarkozy was nowhere to be found.

On the afternoon of the final vote, when Nicolas Sarkozy went to cast his ballot, he was accompanied by two young blond women, Judith and Jeanne-Marie -- his wife's daughters from her first marriage.

But Cécilia was absent, as she had been for most of his campaign.

Many have speculated that Madame Sarkozy did not even vote in the final round of this year's bitterly contested election.

In the end though, when it came time for the now-President Sarkozy to claim victory in the polls, he did so with his willowy wife and their 10-year-old son, Louis, by his side.

So what brought her back from the shadows and what kind of first lady will she be?

At the moment, doubt surrounds her every move, with journalists wondering if she will even move into the Elysée presidential palace with her husband.

Things were not always this complicated. In the early days of the election, Madame Sarkozy took a prominent role in her husband's campaign.

Many believe that she was instrumental in "softening" his image, helping him gain the trust (and the votes) of female as well as young voters.

Crucially, she also oversaw the appointment of Rachida Dati -- a French woman of North African origin -- as one of Nicolas Sarkozy's spokespeople. For Sarkozy, who stood accused of racism after the 2005 riots in Paris' suburbs, when he angrily referred to immigrant rioters as "scum," this appointment was an important attempt at damage control.

The relationship between the couple was so intimate that Cécilia Sarkozy's office was located right next to her husband's, all the better to confer with each other during his stint as minister of the interior.

So what went wrong?

According to Paul Quinio, political editor of the left-leaning newspaper Libération, "at first, Cécilia Sarkozy participated in his campaign, she dealt with his communications, with the appointment of his advisers, but then, there was a rupture."

It was a rupture that was more personal than political, if one takes the Parisian media at their word.

Cécilia Maria Sara Isabel Ciganer-Albeniz first met Nicolas Sarkozy at the altar -- he officiated her first marriage to the television presenter Jacques Martin, 24 years her senior.

Bryony Gordon, a columnist for the British broadsheet The Daily Telegraph told ABCNEWS.com that "the Sarkozys fascinate the public. Their whole love story does. I mean, the man went out of his way to seduce her. He actually got his first wife to befriend her, and then began an affair with her."

According to Sarkozy's biographer, Catherine May, his first wife apparently discovered the affair when the two couples were on a skiing holiday. She found her husband's notably small footprints in the snow outside Cécilia's bedroom window.

President Sarkozy is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and is known to have small feet, and yes, he often wears heeled shoes in public.

Three years later, Cécilia left Martin for Sarkozy and they finally married in 1996, with the four children from their earlier marriages looking on.

In 1997, their son, Louis, was born. And soon, pictures of the happy, if unconventional, family began to dominate magazine covers.

Eight years later, however, history seemed to repeat itself when Cécilia walked out on Sarkozy. Rumors circulated that she was frustrated with his inattentiveness to her, and his dalliances with other women.

Not to be outdone, Cécilia flew to New York to be with her new love, international advertising executive Richard Attias.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, Sarkozy did everything he could to get Cécilia back -- he begged, he pleaded, and when that didn't work, he reportedly began a relationship with Anne Fulda, a 47-year-old political journalist, presumably to make his wife jealous.

Their marital problems provided so much grist for the rumor mills that two books were written about it, both disguised as novels.

In both books -- "Between the Heart and Reason" and "The True Story of the Pretender" -- the neglected wife of a powerful government minister divorces him because of his philandering.

They may be found in the fiction aisle, but no one in France is in any doubt about the inspiration behind these two popular novels.

Meanwhile, in January 2006, 10 months after leaving, Madame Sarkozy returned to her husband.

No one knows quite what prompted it or whether the reunion is built to last.

But, for President Sarkozy, there seemed little doubt. In his book "Testimony," published last year, he wrote: "Today, Cécilia and I are reunited for good, for real, doubtless for ever. ... We are not able and do not know how to separate from each other."

What Madame Sarkozy made of that effusive declaration is anyone's guess. Much has been made of her independence, despite her close involvement in her husband's political career.

Speaking to ABCNEWS.com, Quinio said, "Cécilia has built her own life. She's not here to smile dully next to her man. At the inauguration ceremony, he made an affectionate gesture toward her, he caressed her cheek, and you could see that she felt humiliated by it."

Humiliated by a caress and determined to make her own mark on arguably the most important day of her husband's career.

The morning after the inauguration, newspaper columnists were in little doubt over who had stolen the show (and the headlines) from the new president.

Dressed in a shiny champagne-colored sheath, with a partial slit at the back, the former model reminded some onlookers of perhaps the most stylish first lady of them all, Jackie Kennedy.

As Quinio put it, "For the first time, we saw glamour and celebrity culture being introduced into an official French ceremony. She walked up the steps of the Elysée wearing a designer gown, as if she were gliding down the red carpet at Cannes!"

To Gordon, "Cécilia is the kind of woman all women want to be and every man wants to be with. She is so ballsy."

She added, "When the marriage ran into rough waters, she turned the tables on him, she left him -- I admire that feistiness. And I think the French like her for being authentic."

She's so insistent on being authentic that she has even spoken of her pride in not having a single drop of French blood in her veins.

No wonder then that her wardrobe choice for the presidential inauguration was not a Chanel, Dior or Yves Saint Laurent suit but a Prada dress from the latest spring/summer collection and costing a not-too-shabby $1,965.

Born in Paris to a Russian father and a Spanish mother, and now first lady of France, Madame Sarkozy seems to revel in "not being a typical first wife," according to Gordon.

When ABCNEWS.com spoke to Paris-based Peter Gumbel, a senior writer for Time magazine, he wondered aloud, "Will Cécilia even stick around as first lady? We have no idea!"

For the time being, she seems content to keep the media (and perhaps, the president) guessing.

This week alone, two conflicting reports emerged of her presumed role as first lady.

In the first, published in France's Le Figaro newspaper, presidential sources revealed that Cécilia had hired a respected diplomat, Nicolas de la Granville, to serve as an adviser to her and help her navigate the world stage, playing a complementary role to her husband.

The second report focused on her sudden disappearance from the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. After wowing photographers and journalists in a little black dress at the G-8 leaders' dinner on Wednesday, Madame Sarkozy vanished.

She was nowhere to be seen when Laura Bush, Cherie Blair, and other first ladies gathered for the traditional photo of presidential spouses on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Elysée Palace later said: "She chose to return to Paris for personal reasons. It is her daughter Jeanne-Marie's 20th birthday and she wanted to be with her girls."

It has barely been a month since Nicolas Sarkozy became President Sarkozy and Cécilia Sarkozy became first lady of France.

In the first round, Madame Sarkozy's personal priorities seem to have triumphed over stately protocol.

But power, and presidential power in particular has a way of changing people.

In a world that has seen the wives and widows of leaders rise to political prominence in countries from the USA to India, perhaps Cécilia Sarkozy will once again assume a leading role in handling her husband's political career.

Or maybe she will return to an old dream of hers. When asked in 2004 where she hoped to be in three years' time, she replied, "Jogging in Central Park in New York."

Maeva Bambuck and Ben Barnier contributed to the reporting of this story.