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The Black Swan Of Paris / (by Karen Robards, 2020) -

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The Black Swan Of Paris /    (by Karen Robards, 2020) -

The Black Swan Of Paris / (by Karen Robards, 2020) -

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The Black Swan Of Paris / (by Karen Robards, 2020) -
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2020
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Karen Robards
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Nancy Peterson
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upper-intermediate
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16:53:24
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Black Swan Of Paris / :

.doc (Word) karen_robards_-_the_black_swan_of_paris.doc [968 Kb] (c: 7) .
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audiobook (MP3) .


: The Black Swan Of Paris

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What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? _Winston Churchill Chapter One May 15, 1944 When the worst thing that could ever happen to you had already happened, nothing that came after really mattered. The resultant state of apathy was almost pleasant, as long as she didn_t allow herself to think about it_any of it_too much. She was Genevieve Dumont, a singer, a star. Her latest sold-out performance at one of Paris_s great theaters had ended in a five-minute standing ovation less than an hour before. She was acclaimed, admired, celebrated wherever she went. The Nazis loved her. She was not quite twenty-five years old. Beautiful when, like now, she was dolled up in all her after-show finery. Not in want, not unhappy. In this time of fear and mass starvation, of worldwide deaths on a scale never seen before in the whole course of human history, that made her lucky. She knew it. Whom she had been before, what had almost destroyed her_that life belonged to someone else. Most of the time, she didn_t even remember it herself. She refused to remember it. A siren screamed to life just meters behind the car she was traveling in. Startled, she sat upright in the back seat, heart lurching as she looked around. Do they know? Are they after us? A small knot of fans had been waiting outside the stage door as she_d left. One of them had thrust a program at her, requesting an autograph for Francoise. She_d signed_May your heart always sing, Genevieve Dumont_as previously instructed. What it meant she didn_t know. What she did know was that it meant something: it was a prearranged encounter, and the coded message she_d scribbled down was intended for the Resistance. And now, mere minutes later, here were the Milice, the despised French police who had long since thrown in their lot with the Nazis, on their tail. Even as icy jets of fear spurted through her, a pair of police cars followed by a military truck flew by. Running without lights, they appeared as no more than hulking black shapes whose passage rattled the big Citro?n that up until then had been alone on the road. A split second later, her driver_his name was Otto Cordier; he worked for Max, her manager_slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a stop. _Sacre bleu!_ Flying forward, she barely stopped herself from smacking into the back of the front seat by throwing her arms out in front of her. _What_s happening?_ _A raid, I think._ Peering out through the windshield, Otto clutched the steering wheel with both hands. He was an old man, short and wiry with white hair. She could read tension in every line of his body. In front of the car, washed by the pale moonlight that painted the scene in ghostly shades of gray, the cavalcade that had passed them was now blocking the road. A screech of brakes and the throwing of a shadow across the nearest building had her casting a quick look over her shoulder. Another military truck shuddered to a halt, filling the road behind them, stopping it up like a cork in a bottle. Men_German soldiers along with officers of the Milice_spilled out of the stopped vehicles. The ones behind swarmed past the Citro?n, and all rushed toward what Genevieve tentatively identified as an apartment building. Six stories tall, it squatted, dark and silent, in its own walled garden. _Oh, no,_ she said. Her fear for herself and Otto subsided, but sympathy for the targets of the raid made her chest feel tight. People who were taken away by the Nazis in the middle of the night seldom came back. The officers banged on the front door. _Open up! Police!_ It was just after 10:00 p.m. Until the siren had ripped it apart, the silence blanketing the city had been close to absolute. Thanks to the strictly enforced blackout, the streets were as dark and mysterious as the nearby Seine. It had rained earlier in the day, and before the siren the big Citro?n had been the noisiest thing around, splashing through puddles as they headed back to the Ritz, where she was staying for the duration of her Paris run. _If they keep arresting people, soon there will be no one left._ Genevieve_s gaze locked on a contingent of soldiers spreading out around the building, apparently looking for another way in_or for exits they could block. One rattled a gate of tall iron spikes that led into the brick-walled garden. It didn_t open, and he moved on, disappearing around the side of the building. She was able to follow the soldiers_ movements by the torches they carried. Fitted with slotted covers intended to direct their light downward so as to make them invisible to the Allied air-raid pilots whose increasingly frequent forays over Paris aroused both joy and dread in the city_s war-weary citizens, the torches_ bobbing looked like the erratic flitting of fireflies in the dark. _They_re afraid, and that makes them all the more dangerous._ Otto rolled down his window a crack, the better to hear what was happening as they followed the soldiers_ movements. The earthy scent of the rain mixed with the faint smell of cigarette smoke, which, thanks to Max_s never-ending Gauloises, was a permanent feature of the car. The yellow card that was the pass they needed to be on the streets after curfew, prominently displayed on the windshield, blocked her view of the far side of the building, but she thought soldiers were running that way, too. _They know the Allies are coming. The bombings of the Luftwaffe installations right here in France, the Allied victories on the eastern front_they_re being backed into a corner. They_ll do whatever they must to survive._ _Open the door, or we will break it down!_ The policeman hammered on the door with his nightstick. The staccato beat echoed through the night. Genevieve shivered, imagining the terror of the people inside. Thin lines of light appeared in the cracks around some of the thick curtains covering the windows up and down the building as, at a guess, tenants dared to peek out. A woman, old and stooped_there was enough light in the hall behind her to allow Genevieve to see that much_opened the front door. _Out of the way!_ She was shoved roughly back inside the building as the police and the soldiers stormed in. Her frightened cry changed to a shrill scream that was quickly cut off. Genevieve_s mouth went dry. She clasped her suddenly cold hands in her lap. There_s nothing to be done. It was the mantra of her life. _Can we drive on?_ She had learned in a hard school that there was no point in agonizing over what couldn_t be cured. To stay and watch what she knew was coming_the arrest of partisans, who would face immediate execution upon arrival at wherever they would be taken, or, perhaps and arguably worse, civilians, in some combination of women, children, old people, clutching what few belongings they_d managed to grab, marched at gunpoint out of the building and loaded into the trucks for deportation_would tear at her heart for days without helping them at all. _We_re blocked in._ Otto looked around at her. She didn_t know what he saw in her face, but whatever it was made him grimace and reach for the door handle. _I_ll go see if I can get one of them to move._ When he exited the car, she let her head drop back to rest against the rolled top of the Citro?n_s leather seat, stared at the ceiling and tried not to think about what might be happening to the people in the building. Taking deep breaths, she did her best to block out the muffled shouts and thuds that reached her ears and focused on the physical, which, as a performer, she had experience doing. She was so tired she was limp with it. Her temples throbbed. Her legs ached. Her feet hurt. Her throat_that golden throat that had allowed her to survive_felt tight. Deliberately she relaxed her muscles and tugged the scarf tucked into the neckline of her coat higher to warm herself. A flash of light in the darkness caught her eye. Her head turned as she sought the source. Looking through the iron bars of the garden gate, she discovered a side door in the building that was slowly, stealthily opening. _Is anyone else in there? Come out or I_ll shoot._ The volume of the soldiers_ shouts increased exponentially with this new gap in the walls. That guttural threat rang out above others less distinct, and she gathered from what she heard that they were searching the building. The side door opened wider. Light from inside spilled past a figure slipping out: a girl, tall and thin with dark curly hair, wearing what appeared to be an unbuttoned coat thrown on over nightclothes. In her arms she carried a small child with the same dark, curly hair. The light went out. The door had closed. Genevieve discovered that she was sitting with her nose all but pressed against the window as she tried to find the girl in the darkness. It took her a second, but then she spotted the now shadowy figure as it fled through the garden toward the gate, trying to escape. They_ll shoot her if they catch her. The child, too. The Germans had no mercy for those for whom they came. The girl reached the gate, paused. A pale hand grabbed a bar. From the metallic rattle that reached her ears, Genevieve thought she must be shoving at the gate, shaking it. She assumed it was locked. In any event, it didn_t open. Then that same hand reached through the bars, along with a too-thin arm, stretching and straining. Toward what? It was too dark to tell. With the Citro?n stopped in the middle of the narrow street and the garden set back only a meter or so from the front facade of the building, the girl was close enough so that Genevieve could read the desperation in her body language, see the way she kept looking back at the now closed door. The child, who appeared to be around ten months old, seemed to be asleep. The small curly head rested trustingly on the girl_s shoulder. It wasn_t a conscious decision to leave the car. Genevieve just did it, then realized the risk she was taking when her pumps clickety-clacked on the cobblestones. The sound seemed to tear through the night and sent a lightning bolt of panic through her. Get back in the car. Her sense of self-preservation screamed it at her, but she didn_t. Shivering at the latent menace of the big military trucks looming so close on either side of the Citro?n, the police car parked askew in the street, the light spilling from the still open front door and the sounds of the raid going on inside the building, she kept going, taking care to be quiet now as she darted toward the trapped girl. You_re putting yourself in danger. You_re putting Otto, Max, everyone in danger. The whole network_ Heart thudding, she reached the gate. Even as she and the girl locked eyes through it, the girl jerked her arm back inside and drew herself up. The sweet scent of flowers from the garden felt obscene in contrast with the fear and despair she sensed in the girl. _It_s all right. I_m here to help,_ Genevieve whispered. She grasped the gate, pulling, pushing as she spoke. The iron bars were solid and cold and slippery with the moisture that still hung in the air. The gate didn_t budge for her, either. The clanking sound it made as she joggled it against its moorings made her break out in a cold sweat. Darkness enfolded her, but it was leavened by moonlight and she didn_t trust it to keep her safe. After all, she_d seen the girl from the car. All it would take was one sharp-eyed soldier, one policeman to come around a corner, or step out of the building and look her way_and she could be seen, too. Caught. Helping a fugitive escape. The consequences would be dire. Imprisonment, deportation, even death. Her pulse raced. She thought of Max, what he would say. On the other side of the gate, moonlight touched on wide dark eyes set in a face so thin the bones seemed about to push through the skin. The girl appeared to be about her own age, and she thought she must be the child_s mother. The sleeping child_Genevieve couldn_t tell if it was a girl or a boy_was wearing footed pajamas. Her heart turned over. _Oh, thank God. Thank you._ Whispering, too, the girl reached through the bars to touch Genevieve_s arm in gratitude. _There_s a key. In the fountainhead. In the mouth. It unlocks the gate._ She cast another of those lightning glances over her shoulder. Shifting from foot to foot, she could hardly stand still in her agitation. Fear rolled off her in waves. _Hurry. Please._ Genevieve looked in the direction the girl had been reaching, saw the oval stone of the fountainhead set into the brick near the gate, saw the carved lion_s head in its center with its open mouth from which, presumably, water was meant to pour out. Reaching inside, she probed the cavity, ran her fingers over the worn-smooth stone, then did it again. _There_s no key,_ she said. _It_s not here._ _It has to be. It has to be!_ The girl_s voice rose, trembled. The child_s head moved. The girl made a soothing sound, rocked back and forth, patted the small back, and the child settled down again with a sigh. Watching, a pit yawned in Genevieve_s stomach. Glancing hastily down, she crouched to check the ground beneath the fountainhead, in case the key might have fallen out. It was too dark; she couldn_t see. She ran her hand over the cobblestones. Nothing. _It_s not__ she began, standing up, only to break off with a swiftly indrawn breath as the door through which the girl had exited flew open. This time, in the rectangle of light, a soldier stood. _My God._ The girl_s whisper as she turned her head to look was scarcely louder than a breath, but it was so loaded with terror that it made the hair stand up on the back of Genevieve_s neck. _What do I do?_ _Who is out there?_ the soldier roared. Pistol ready in his hand, he pointed his torch toward the garden. The light played over a tattered cluster of pink peonies, over overgrown green shrubs, over red tulips thrusting their heads through weeds, as it came their way. _Don_t think to hide from me._ _Take the baby. Please._ Voice hoarse with dread, the girl thrust the child toward her. Genevieve felt a flutter of panic: if this girl only knew, she would be the last person she would ever trust with her child. But there was no one else, and thus no choice to be made. As a little leg and arm came through the gate, Genevieve reached out to help, taking part and then all of the baby_s weight as between them she and the girl maneuvered the little one through the bars. As their hands touched, she could feel the cold clamminess of the girl_s skin, feel her trembling. With the child no longer clutched in her arms, the dark shape of a six-pointed yellow star on her coat became visible. The true horror of what was happening struck Genevieve like a blow. The girl whispered, _Her name_s Anna. Anna Katz. Leave word of where I_m to come for her in the fountainhead__ The light flashed toward them. _You there, by the gate,_ the soldier shouted. With a gasp, the girl whirled away. _Halt! Stay where you are!_ Heart in her throat, blood turning to ice, Genevieve whirled away, too, in the opposite direction. Cloaked by night, she ran as lightly as she could for the car, careful to keep her heels from striking the cobblestones, holding the child close to her chest, one hand splayed against short, silky curls. The soft baby smell, the feel of the firm little body against her, triggered such an explosion of emotion that she went briefly light-headed. The panicky flutter in her stomach solidified into a knot_and then the child_s wriggling and soft sounds of discontent brought the present sharply back into focus. If she cried. Terror tasted sharp and bitter in Genevieve_s mouth. _Shh. Shh, Anna,_ she crooned desperately. _Shh._ _I said halt!_ The soldier_s roar came as Genevieve reached the car, grabbed the door handle, wrenched the door open_ Bang. The bark of a pistol. A woman_s piercing cry. The girl_s piercing cry. No. Genevieve screamed it, but only in her mind. The guilt of running away, of leaving the girl behind, crashed into her like a speeding car. Blowing his whistle furiously, the soldier ran down the steps. More soldiers burst through the door, following the first one down the steps and out of sight. Had the girl been shot? Was she dead? My God, my God. Genevieve_s heart slammed in her chest. She threw herself and the child into the back seat and_softly, carefully_closed the door. Because she didn_t dare do anything else. Coward. The baby started to cry. Staring out the window in petrified expectation of seeing the soldiers come charging after her at any second, she found herself panting with fear even as she did her best to quiet the now wailing child. Could anyone hear? Did the soldiers know the girl had been carrying a baby? If she was caught with the child. What else could I have done? Max would say she should have stayed out of it, stayed in the car. That the common good was more important than the plight of any single individual. Even a terrified girl. Even a baby. _It_s all right, Anna. I_ve got you safe. Shh._ Settling back in the seat to position the child more comfortably in her arms, she murmured and patted and rocked. Instinctive actions, long forgotten, reemerged in this moment of crisis. Through the gate she could see the soldiers clustering around something on the ground. The girl, she had little doubt, although the darkness and the garden_s riotous blooms blocked her view. With Anna, quiet now, sprawled against her chest, a delayed reaction set in and she started to shake. Otto got back into the car. _They_re going to be moving the truck in front as soon as it_s loaded up._ His voice was gritty with emotion. Anger? Bitterness? _Someone tipped them off that Jews were hiding in the building, and they_re arresting everybody. Once they_re__ Otto broke off as the child made a sound. _Shh._ Genevieve patted, rocked. _Shh, shh._ His face a study in incredulity, Otto leaned around in the seat to look. _Holy hell, is that a baby?_ _Her mother was trapped in the garden. She couldn_t get out._ Otto shot an alarmed look at the building, where soldiers now marched a line of people, young and old, including a couple of small children clutching adults_ hands, out the front door. _My God,_ he said, sounding appalled. _We_ve got to get__ Appearing out of seemingly nowhere, a soldier rapped on the driver_s window. With his knuckles, hard. Oh, no. Please no. Genevieve_s heart pounded. Her stomach dropped like a rock as she stared at the shadowy figure on the other side of the glass. We_re going to be arrested. Or shot. Whipping the scarf out of her neckline, she draped the brightly printed square across her shoulder and over the child. Otto cranked the window down. _Papers,_ the soldier barked. Fear formed a hard knot under Genevieve_s breastbone. Despite the night_s chilly temperature, she could feel sweat popping out on her forehead and upper lip. On penalty of arrest, everyone in Occupied France, from the oldest to the youngest, was required to have identity documents readily available at all times. Hers were in her handbag, beside her on the seat. But Anna had none. Otto passed his cards to the soldier, who turned his torch on them. As she picked up her handbag, Genevieve felt Anna stir. Please, God, don_t let her cry. _Here._ Quickly she thrust her handbag over the top of the seat to Otto. Anna was squirming now. Genevieve had to grab and secure the scarf from underneath to make sure the baby_s movements didn_t knock it askew. If the soldier saw her. Anna whimpered. Muffled by the scarf, the sound wasn_t loud, but its effect on Genevieve was electric. She caught her breath as her heart shot into her throat_and reacted instinctively, as, once upon a time, it had been second nature to do. She slid the tip of her little finger between Anna_s lips. The baby responded as babies typically did: she latched on and sucked. Genevieve felt the world start to slide out of focus. The familiarity of it, the bittersweet memories it evoked, made her dizzy. She had to force herself to stay in the present, to concentrate on this child and this moment to the exclusion of all else. Otto had handed her identity cards over. The soldier examined them with his torch, then bent closer to the window and looked into the back seat. She almost expired on the spot. _Mademoiselle Dumont. It is a pleasure. I have enjoyed your singing very much._ Anna_s hungry little mouth tugged vigorously at her finger. _Thank you,_ Genevieve said, and smiled. The soldier smiled back. Then he straightened, handed the papers back and, with a thump on the roof, stepped away from the car. Otto cranked the window up. The tension inside the car was so thick she could almost physically feel the weight of it. _Let them through,_ the soldier called to someone near the first truck. Now loaded with the unfortunate new prisoners, it was just starting to pull out. With a wave for the soldier, Otto followed, although far too slowly for Genevieve_s peace of mind. As the car crawled after the truck, she cast a last, quick glance at the garden: she could see nothing, not even soldiers. Was the girl_Anna_s mother_still there on the ground? Or had she already been taken away? Was she dead? Genevieve felt sick to her stomach. But once again, there was nothing to be done. Acutely aware of the truck_s large side and rear mirrors and what might be able to be seen through them, Genevieve managed to stay upright and keep the baby hidden until the Citro?n turned a corner and went its own way. Then, feeling as though her bones had turned to jelly, she slumped against the door. Anna gave up on the finger and started to cry, shrill, distressed wails that filled the car. With what felt like the last bit of her strength, Genevieve pushed the scarf away and gathered her up and rocked and patted and crooned to her. Just like she had long ago done with_ Do not think about it. _Shh, Anna. Shh._ _That was almost a disaster._ Otto_s voice, tight with reaction, was nonetheless soft for fear of disturbing the quieting child. _What do we do now? You can_t take a baby back to the hotel. Think questions won_t be asked? What do you bet that soldier won_t talk about having met Genevieve Dumont? All it takes is one person to make the connection between the raid and you showing up with a baby and it will ruin us all. It will ruin everything._ _I know._ Genevieve was limp. _Find Max. He_ll know what to do._ Chapter Two Is it my fate to die tonight? Lillian de Rocheford_s blood ran cold as the question pushed its way into the forefront of her mind. An owl hooting on the roof of a house brought death to the one who heard it_everyone said so. It was silly, pure superstition. She did not for one moment believe it. But last night an owl had landed on the Ch?teau de Rocheford_s steep slate roof almost directly above her attic bedroom, waking her with its mournful hoot. Today the summons had come: they were needed. She had wanted to refuse. The circumstances were such that she could not. Arrangements had been made, a rendezvous point set. And now here they were. And I_m jumping at everything that moves because of that damned owl. _They should be here by now._ She didn_t realize she was fretting aloud until Andre Bouchard, who_d moved a few paces ahead to peer out into the fog, looked back at her. His shadow, distorted by the gray diffusion of moonlight filtering through the trees, stretched back toward her like a skeletal hand. _If there was trouble, we would have heard something. Shouts, gunfire._ He spoke in a whisper, as she had done. It was true, what Andre said: war was rarely silent. In the last four years, since the Germans had done the unthinkable and broken through the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line to overrun France, the noise, like all the other horrible things the invaders had brought with them, had been unrelenting. First, the desperate evacuation from nearly every port along the Atlantic coast of the French army and the British and Czech soldiers whose combined efforts had failed to keep France safe. Next, the resulting firestorm as the Germans had launched their attack against the retreat that had left thousands upon thousands dead. Then came the surrender, the declaring of the city of Cherbourg open to the Nazis by their own city council, followed by the ominous rumble of trucks bringing in the despised Wehrmacht to live among them. After that, the growl of the British and, later, the American aeroplanes streaking over her beloved Cotentin Peninsula, the whistle and boom of the bombs they dropped, the staccato rat-a-tat of the entrenched Germans_ return fire, had begun. By now all of that had become so much a part of the fabric of an ordinary night that its absence made her skin prickle with dread. It was because of the fog, the thick swirling fog that glinted silver as the searchlights sliced through it, that the night sounds were muffled and the planes did not come, she knew. But knowing did not make her less afraid. There was a curfew in place. Merely to be found outside at this hour would result in arrest. Far worse to be caught where they were, in the supposedly impassable marsh that cut off the beaches from the rest of the Cotentin, and was so prized for its defensive value that the Vikings had once called the area Carusburg, or Fortress of the Marsh. It was also a key part of the Germans_ defensive strategy in the event of an attack launched against the Normandy beaches. For them to discover that she knew a way through the marsh would, she had no doubt, result in her instant execution. Ordinarily she would have simply refused to think about it, but_the owl. A cold finger slid down her spine. Only a fool would be unafraid. The damp chill of the fog caressed her cheeks, brushed salt-tinged fingers across her mouth like a passing ghost. The faint smell of decay that was part of the marsh drifted by with it. She clenched her teeth in an effort to stop shivering and tightened her hand in its knit glove over Bruno the pony_s muzzle to keep him quiet. The searchlights were closing in. Mounted in the boats of the Kriegsmarine patrolling the harbor and the adjacent coastline, their sweep was as punctual as sunrise. With one last anxious glance at the approaching beams, she ducked her face against the warmth of Bruno_s shaggy brown neck to prevent them from catching on her eyes, inhaled the pony_s familiar musky scent and counted down the seconds until it was safe to look up again. .5.4.3. _Baroness. There._ Andre_s relieved whisper brought her head up prematurely, but it was all right, the searchlights had moved on. Useless to remind him that for tonight she was simply Lillian, that using her title even in this place, where with luck only the beavers could hear, was to endanger her. A lifelong tenant farmer on Rocheford, her husband_s once grand estate, wiry, balding Andre was unable to bring himself to address her so familiarly even now, when the world as they had known it was being ground to bits beneath the filthy boots of the boche. _Be quick._ Some of the tension left her shoulders as the chaland sliding noiselessly toward them through the glinting black water took on shape and form. Andre left the narrow spit of solid land on which they waited to squelch out to meet the small, flat-bottomed boat. The sucking sound of his boots in the mud made her heart knock in her chest. _The Germans are far away,_ she murmured to Bruno, though whether to comfort the pony or herself she couldn_t be sure. Bruno threw up his head unexpectedly, dislodging her grip, as her husband Paul, Baron de Rocheford, slid out of the boat to help Andre pull it the rest of the way in. Lillian barely managed to clap her hand over the pony_s muzzle again in time to prevent him from whickering a greeting at the man he must be able to recognize by smell alone, because the distance made him no more than a denser shape in the fog. Once tall and elegantly slender, her handsome Paul was gaunt and stoop-shouldered now. He would turn sixty_impossible to believe_this year, but age was not the culprit. It was the brutally harsh conditions under which they were forced to live. At fifty, for the same reason, she herself had become bony and sharp featured, with haunted hollows beneath her eyes and hungry ones beneath her cheekbones. Her once luxuriant black hair was now thin and mostly gray. Her trousers, purchased before the war, had to be belted tightly around her waist to keep them from dropping straight to her ankles. Her once formfitting sweater hung on her like a sack. Like her much-patched black coat and the threadbare black scarf twined round her head, she had seen far better days. Unable to call out, Bruno stamped his feet in frustration. The splash of his hooves on the soggy ground, and the jingle of his stirrups, sent her stomach shooting into her throat. The concrete abomination that was the Atlantic Wall with its pillboxes full of machine guns and soldiers was not that far away. It would be foolish to trust their lives to the muffling effect of the fog. She gave a sharp tug on Bruno_s bridle and growled _Stop, you_ into his ear. Her heart knocked so loudly now that she could hear its beat against her eardrums. Still she stood fast, holding the grizzled pony that was the sole survivor of Rocheford_s once proud stable, the pony that, long ago, in happier times, had been a gift to her daughter on her birthday. The sixteenth of May. Tomorrow. _For me?_ She could still hear the incredulous delight in her five-year-old_s voice, still see her slight figure in the blue party dress as she let go of her hand to fly down Rocheford_s front steps toward a much younger but still placid Bruno, who_d just been brought round by a smiling Paul. _Papa, he_s beautiful!_ The voice, like the memory, was forever preserved in her heart. Lillian_s chest tightened. Every cell in her body quivered with the sudden onslaught of fierce sorrow. Her fiery little daughter, lost to her these many years. ?a suffit. Put it out of your mind. _Any problems?_ Paul_s lowered voice reached her through the mist. He was talking to Andre. _No, none,_ he replied. The two men were close now, sloshing toward her through calf-deep water. Besides Paul, and Jean-Claude Faure, a bookkeeper from the town who had accompanied him to the rendezvous point, the boat carried two other men, who were helping to propel it by use of long poles. They were strangers to her, as far as she knew. As they were members of a different cell she had no need, or desire, to know their identities, just as they had no need to know hers. In this new world where no one could be trusted and collaborators were everywhere, anonymity was the key to safety. Lying awkwardly in the bottom of the boat was the reason they were all taking such a risk: an injured British pilot. His plane had been shot down over the harbor two nights previously. He and his crew had managed to parachute out. What had happened to the others she didn_t know. This man was a particular problem because he was injured to the point where he was unable to walk. He had been rescued and hidden at great risk. Even now the Germans were conducting an all-out search for him and his crew. Getting him out by sea was judged impossible: the harbor and shoreline were closely patrolled. Moving him overland by vehicle was determined to be equally impossible, as every road out of the valley was blocked, every train stopped and searched. Since the tide of the war had started to turn against them, the Germans had become increasingly vicious and volatile, like angry wasps defending their nest. The rumors of an imminent Allied invasion somewhere along the coast seemed to have whipped these local ones into a frenzy. They were going house to house, business to business, farm to farm, ransacking homes, boats, shops, even the schools and churches, in search of the downed airmen. To be caught aiding any of them meant summary execution. Even to be suspected meant torture and imprisonment. Many had already been taken in for questioning. As a result, fear lay over the surrounding countryside like the heavy fog. A solution to the difficulty had been found. Tonight they would walk the pilot out, strapped to Bruno_s back, through the swamp paths that had once been used by smugglers. She knew those paths like she knew the many rooms in her house. Since she had married Paul at the age of eighteen and come to Rocheford to live, she had haunted the estuary, fascinated by the birds, the wildlife, the plants. The mushrooms she had gathered in the marsh and cultivated in the far reaches of the ch?teau_s cave-like cellars supplemented the household_s meager diet now that the tightly rationed food supply had all but run out and mass starvation had become a grim reality. Paul had teased her about her mushrooms once. He did not laugh at them now. Her knowledge of the paths was why, despite the owl, she had insisted on coming. The danger to the men would be far greater without her to guide them. Paul had wanted to leave her behind. _The trip will be too hard,_ he_d told her. _Too long, and too dangerous._ Yes, but one wrong step off the ribs of solid ground that snaked across the marsh, invisibly weaving a walkway through the swaying grass and tangles of trees and scrub and fingerlet waterways, and all would be lost. The ground was deceptive. It looked firm where it was not. In many places water beneath the tall grass was more than two meters deep, and the mud below that was silt, oozing and liquid. Unwary animals got trapped in it and died all the time. The same could, and did, befall unwary humans. _I am coming,_ she_d said. His eyes were the color of coffee, while hers were a clear, pale, aquamarine blue. They met, a clash of the dark and the light. She rarely argued with him. After all these years, they were attuned in most things. But he also knew her well enough to know when she meant what she said. He looked into her eyes, saw that this was one of those times and gave up the fight as lost before it began. A smart man, her Paul. _Bring her in,_ he said to the men in the boat. _Hurry._ The bow pushed through the last of the reeds to bump dry land. Lillian led Bruno as close to the water_s edge as she dared. Andre held the small craft in place while Paul and the others lifted the pilot out. The man groaned, a low, pained sound. _Take care. His leg is broken._ The caution came from one of the men she did not know. _And perhaps some ribs, as well._ _Sergeant Pilot Ronald Nash,_ the pilot said clearly in English as the men heaved his tall, lanky form into the saddle. Even as Lillian felt a thrill of fear at how loud his voice was, she realized that he was rotely identifying himself. He slumped forward over the pommel. _Three Squadron__ _Merde._ _The drug_s worn off._ _Here._ Amid the jumble of alarmed voices and hurried movements, one of the new arrivals pressed a cloth to the pilot_s face. When he took it away after a minute or so, the pilot had fallen the rest of the way forward so that his head rested on Bruno_s neck. _Drug?_ Lillian asked. She did her best to hold Bruno still as the men tied the pilot_s now limp body in place. His flight suit had been replaced with ill-fitting civilian clothes. His splinted leg stretched stiffly toward the ground. As the men finished, a blanket was tossed over him. Its purpose was both to shield him from the elements and to hide him from view. Although if, say, a German patrol should chance to see them, she didn_t think a blanket over the airman would be enough to get them waved on their way. _Chloroform._ Paul came up beside her. At the same time, the boat shoved off and the men with the poles got to work again, heading back the way they had come. _They thought it was best to keep him quiet and to combat the pain._ _Much risk for nothing if he dies,_ Jean-Claude grumbled. A dour man of near her own age, he lived with his elderly mother and was one of the last Lillian would have expected to chance all for such a cause. _We must make certain he does not, then,_ Paul replied perfectly pleasantly, but with the ring of a leader. Lillian felt a surge of pride in him. From the time he_d heard the little-known general Charles de Gaulle, in the wake of France_s surrender, speaking over the radio from London to call on all Frenchmen to refuse to accept defeat and continue to fight, that_s what he had done. Living meekly day by day under the iron fist of the occupying Nazis, swallowing the shame of France_s surrender and the collaboration of the Vichy government was not something he could stomach. _Did you have to get into the water?_ Lillian scolded under her breath as she turned Bruno about and headed inland. Left without his rider now for lo these many years, the pony had grown unaccustomed to the saddle and the weight on his back and moved reluctantly, unhappy with his burden. She tch-tched at him under her breath, pulled harder on the rein, got him going at an acceptable pace. _Is there a reason why Jean-Claude, perhaps, or one of the others couldn_t jump out and pull the boat in?_ _I_m taller?_ Paul grinned at her. For a moment she caught a glimpse of the charming young man she_d first met shortly after she_d turned thirteen, when, as the aristocratic son of a prosperous landowner, he_d come to visit her physician father_s clinic in Orconte to observe the effects of an administration of smallpox vaccine, which had just become obligatory in France. At that young age, they_d both been starry-eyed about the future, with no idea that it could hold such things as poverty or hunger or death or war. _You worry too much, ma choupette._ He leaned down to whisper confidentially, _Besides, I stole a pair of Henri Vartan_s work boots._ Formerly their farm manager, forced to find other work once the hard times hit in the thirties, Henri still lived in his cottage at Rocheford but now worked for the railroad, which as it happened served as a valuable cog in the Resistance network. Lillian glanced down, saw that Paul was indeed wearing a pair of unfamiliar rubber boots that reached almost to his knees, and harrumphed her opinion of that. _I_m all right, Lil._ His voice gentled. _Everything is going to be all right._ _I_m glad you think so._ Her tone was tart, but the truth was his words soothed her. She knew it was stupid, knew he could no more predict the future than she could, but still his reassurance went a long way toward calming the nervous flutter in her stomach. Usually she was better able to keep the fear at bay. Even the high-risk work they_d been doing in preparation for the major operation that was coming had not unsettled her like this. All because you heard an owl. Yes, and also because taking photographs of the tall, mine-topped poles, called Rommel_s asparagus, as they were being set in place to bristle up around the shoreline, and mapping the antipersonnel mines that had been laid down to repel an amphibious landing, and gathering samples of sand from the beaches to make sure they could support the weight of insurgent tanks, which was what they had been doing for the last few weeks, were all easier to explain away than being caught smuggling a British pilot out through the supposedly impassable marsh in the middle of the night. The searchlights swung past, but thankfully they were now beyond the reach of the beams. _We must go single file._ Glancing around, she repeated it for the benefit of the others as the spit opened out into a sea of shoulder-high grass that stretched endlessly into the night. With the patrols out, she didn_t dare use a torch. Instead she would navigate by memory, and landmarks, such as the abandoned beaver dam dead ahead. _The path is narrow._ Some three hours later, they walked out of the marsh into a wood, then paused just inside a line of trees to cautiously survey what lay on its other side: the narrow paved road that led into Valognes. A blackout was in effect, so no lights marked the town_s location. Farmhouses dotted the surrounding land, Lillian knew, but they were as good as invisible in the dark. Stepping into the road, they started toward the town. _How are you doing?_ Paul asked, coming up beside her. Lillian managed a smile for him. _Fine._ It was almost true. Except for the fact that she was so hungry the sides of her stomach were practically stuck together, and her arm ached from dragging Bruno along, and her feet in their sturdy brogues were freezing. The layers of newspaper with which she_d lined her coat were failing miserably in their task of keeping out the cold, so the rest of her was freezing, too. Even the small garnet heart she wore on a chain around her neck_all her other jewelry had been sold or traded long since, but this particular piece had been too precious to give up_felt cold against her skin. Worse, her nerves were on edge in a way that was both unpleasant and unfamiliar. But there was no point in regaling Paul with any of that: he would only worry. With a hint of humor she added, _You couldn_t have had them meet us at the edge of the swamp?_ He took the rein from her, and she relinquished it gladly. _Better that they don_t know we came through it._ His voice was pitched so that it reached her ears only, and he looked ahead as he spoke. She thought he was searching for landmarks to guide them just as she had done. _The Germans think the marsh is impossible to cross, and we don_t want anyone to tell them differently._ _You_re right, of course._ This reminder of what, when the invasion came, she would be called upon to do made her pulse quicken. His expression changed, and she followed his gaze to find that he was looking at a small pile of stones beside a corner fence post. It was clearly the sign he_d been watching for. _We_re close now._ He glanced around, raised his voice so the others could hear, pointed. _Up this way._ On the other side of the road, what looked like a cart track led uphill between parallel fence rows. They turned onto it, trudged over the rocky, uneven ground. At the top of the rise was the dark outline of a barn. Their destination, Paul told them; then he gave a soft, three-noted whistle. The barn door slid open with a rusty rumbling sound. Peering through the floating wisps of fog into the impenetrable black maw of the barn_s interior, Lillian felt a quiver of unease. A man walked out of the barn, beckoned to them urgently. A gray shape against the darkness behind him, he was impossible to identify. Paul_s step slowed. He said, _They should have whistled back._ At his tone she experienced a sensation that felt very much like a spider crawling across the nape of her neck_or a goose walking over her grave. To her alone, he added under his breath, _Turn and walk down the hill. Now. If something happens, run._ Sucking in her breath, Lillian glanced at him. At what she saw in his face her heart stampeded. Before she could answer, before she could even begin to comply, the night exploded into chaos. The sound of charging footsteps accompanied a blinding explosion of light from the barn as a trio of powerful searchlights switched on, catching them full in their beams. _Halt!_ Soldiers pointing rifles burst through the open doorway. Frightened, Bruno whinnied and reared, jerking the rein from Paul_s hold as he bolted with a thunder of hooves. The blanket dislodged, revealing the slipping body of the pilot. Andre and Jean-Claude yelled and jumped aside to get out of the way. Paul_s hands slammed into her shoulder, shoving her violently to the ground. The soldiers opened fire. _Ah!_ For Lillian, that one cry pierced the tumult like an arrow lodging in her heart. The voice was Paul_s. She saw him fall. He landed on his side on the muddy track, rolled onto his back. Bathed in the garish brightness of the searchlights, he writhed, ashen faced. _No!_ On hands and knees, she scrambled toward him. Blood stained his coat, spurted from a wound in his chest. _No!_ She reached him, saw at a glance that it was worse than bad. Snatching off her scarf, she tried to stanch the blood. He looked at her, sucked in a shuddering breath. Already his lips were taking on a bluish tinge. She could feel the warm wetness soaking through her scarf and gloves. No. No. No. _Paul._ It was all she could say. A lump lodged in her throat. Her chest felt like it was caught in a vise. She pressed both hands down hard on his wound, praying that it would be enough to stem the bleeding. _Lil._ His eyes closed, then opened again. Heart thudding, she leaned close to catch his words. _Last night_did you hear the owl?_ Horror turned her blood to ice. _I__ There was no time for more. Rough hands closed on her arms. A trio of rifles were thrust in her face. Screaming, crying, fighting like a madwoman to get back to him, she was dragged away. Chapter Three _All right. You_ve had enough._ Max_s low-pitched warning as he came up behind her spurred Genevieve into tossing back the champagne remaining in her delicate crystal flute like it was a shot of neat whisky. _It_s never enough._ His arm snaked around her waist. He yanked her back against him. _Hey! You almost made me drop my glass._ Not bothering to struggle, she glared at him over her shoulder. _Pull yourself together._ He spoke into her ear. His voice was harsh. They were alone in the hall, or he never would have grabbed her like that. In public Max always exhibited the deference that was due her as the star around which his life supposedly revolved. _Let go of me._ _What we_re doing here is too important for you to jeopardize it with your stunts._ _Are you calling rescuing that child last night a stunt?_ The outrage in her voice was in no way diminished because she had, of necessity, to keep the volume low. After Otto had taken her to Max_at an illicit nightspot in the place des Vosges_and left her in the car while he_d gone in to get him, Max had come out and climbed into the back seat, his grim expression making it clear that Otto had already briefed him about what had occurred. He_d taken one look at her face and obviously picked up on the desperate resolve with which she_d been clutching the baby. Instead of scolding her or launching into a diatribe about her foolishness in getting involved, he had been as soothing and reassuring as only Max at his best could be. And, just as she_d been certain he would, he_d known exactly what to do. He told her all about the Oeuvre de secours aux enfants, also known as the Children_s Aid Society, or OSE, even as Otto had driven them to a house in the Bastille. Assuring her that the clandestine organization had been set up by the Resistance for exactly that purpose and the child would be protected from the Nazis and well cared for until she could be restored to her family, he_d persuaded her to hand Anna over to him when they_d stopped in front of it and taken her inside. When he_d returned, alone, he reassured her some more as Otto drove them to the Ritz. Genevieve had spent the hours since not sleeping and not thinking about Anna or the girl or any of the associations the encounter had dredged up. Oh, and drinking. _It was a good thing to do. It was also stupid. What if you_d been caught? Do you know what they would have done to you?_ His breath tickled her ear. She could almost feel the movement of his lips against the delicate whorls. She could feel the firmness of his body pressed up against her back and the hard strength of his arm around her waist. She fought the urge to close her eyes_until she realized that her arm was wrapped on top of his, holding it as he held her. Instantly her arm fell away, and she stiffened into rigidity. _I_m sure you_re going to tell me._ _They would have arrested you. Then they would have tortured you. Do you have any concept of what torture is like? They might, for example, have begun by breaking your fingers, one by one. You_d give up Otto and me and the whole bloody network the minute they started in on you, believe me._ _It didn_t happen, did it? So why are you worrying?_ _Because now you_re drunk. And that makes you a liability._ _I am not drunk._ _You stumbled over the carpet back there. There_s too much at stake here. We can_t afford any cock-ups._ _I do my job._ _And you need to keep doing it. No more haring off to rescue children. No more getting drunk. Just do what you_re supposed to do._ _Since when do you get to dictate my every move?_ She shoved at the arm wrapped around her waist. It wouldn_t have worked, but a waiter carrying a tray came around the corner just then_his attention fortunately on the tray_s load of freshly filled champagne flutes rather than the little drama playing out between her and Max farther along the hall_and, seeing him, too, Max released her. Without another word, Genevieve walked on as if nothing had happened, deposited her empty flute on the tray as the waiter passed and grabbed another full one, more to annoy Max than because she really wanted it. Ostentatiously sipping at the champagne, she continued to make her way along the narrow hallway that led from the dressing rooms to the stage. Tall and intimidating despite the old injury that made him walk with a pronounced limp and the aid of an elegant black stick, Max lengthened his stride until he loomed beside her. _Feeling full of yourself, are you?_ To hell with sipping. She gulped a mouthful of champagne. _Feeling sick of being ordered around by you._ _Sure it_s not the amount of booze you_ve consumed making you feel sick?_ She shot him a fulminating look. _You can__ She was interrupted by chorus girls in their elaborate costumes rushing past, as they sped on their way to get into position for the finale. Others, exiting the stage, hurried toward the greenroom where the after-show party was already getting started. With Max now half a step behind her, she made her way toward the stage, dodging performers and stagehands alike as they got caught up in the crosscurrents of the backstage in flux between numbers. A welter of low-voiced chatter cut through the frenetic music of the closing bars of the evening_s second-to-last act, the ever popular cancan, currently onstage. So many bodies in such close proximity made the enclosed area overwarm, which she supposed many might consider a blessing on this cold May night in Paris, where, as a result of the Occupation, coal and heating oil were almost as impossible to obtain as food. The smell, a mix of heavy perfumes, cigarette smoke, cosmetics, unwashed costumes and musty carpet, would probably be considered unpleasant by some. To her it was familiar and comforting, the scent of home. _You should already be in position._ There was a definite edge to Max_s voice. She took that as a win, because he rarely lost his patience, and drank more champagne. _You_re on in a matter of minutes._ _Whose fault is that? You delayed me._ _Being late is unprofessional. Take that as a word of warning from your manager._ Genevieve made a scoffing sound. Besides being what the Pariser Zeitung, the propaganda-filled, German-instituted Paris daily, described as the _brilliant impresario behind the dazzlingly successful international tour,_ she, _the achingly beautiful star with the voice of an angel_ was embarked upon, Max was indeed, officially, her manager. Unofficially, and whether she liked it or not, he was, quite simply, the man who could tell her what to do. She didn_t like it. She didn_t like him. Most of the time. Max was black haired, strong chinned, with a tanned, lived-in face, hard dark eyes and a straight blade of a nose above a surprisingly beautiful, sensitive mouth. Handsome? Her girl singers seemed to think so. While she might once have agreed, her opinion had changed radically since she_d become more closely acquainted with him. His papers said his name was Maximillian Georges Bonet, a now forty-four-year-old French citizen who was medically unfit for military service. It was in that guise, three years previously, that he_d inserted himself into her life. It was all a lie, as she_d learned to her cost far too late to do anything about it. The truth was that he was thirty-four, nine years her senior. The even more terrifying truth was that he was a British agent. A spy. Major Max Ryan, Special Operations Executive. SOE. And he was using her, her French nationality, her fame, the gift that was her voice, to run an espionage network that encompassed the length and breadth of Occupied Europe. With no regard at all for the fact that he might very well get herFiltered them all, the entire unknowing troupe_killed. The Germans had no mercy for spies. The F?hrer himself had ordered that the Geneva convention was to be disregarded for them. If they were captured, their lives could be spared only for the purpose of interrogation. As soon as the interrogation_torture_was over, they were to be shot. No exceptions. The knowledge made for peaceful, nightmare-free nights. Max had befriended her in Morocco, where she had fled in the face of the German invasion. He_d taken advantage of the one thing they genuinely had in common, music, to make her like him, make her trust him, deliberately, as she now knew. Then, when she_d turned to him for help in a moment of direst need, he_d snapped the trap shut on her. Instead of finding a shoulder to lean on, as she_d thought, she discovered that what she_d really done was make a deal with the devil. Not that she_d figured it out right away. He_d _helped her out_ at the beginning, arranging first one tour and then a succession of them for her, in increasingly glittering venues. Gradually he_d assumed total control. He_d streamlined her operation, taken over her publicity, dictated where and when she performed, implemented the steps needed to cement her status as a true international star. Soon he_d had her touring nonstop, had her songs all over the radio, had her appearing alongside the greats, until now she was acknowledged far and wide as the toast of Europe. Also now, appearances to the contrary, the truth was that she worked for him. _Afraid I_ll miss my cue?_ Knowing it was getting under his skin, she sipped more champagne. Mouth tightening, he plucked the flute from her hand, sloshing the cool liquid all over her fingers in the process, and thrust it into the hands of a chorus boy heading in the opposite direction. The young choriste looked affronted until he saw who had thus accosted him. The resulting change in his expression would have been comical had she been in the mood to be amused. Max scowled at her as the boy skittered away with the flute. _Afraid you_ll pass out onstage. Or on that perch contraption you come down on. In which case you_ll probably break your neck._ _It_s a swing._ Knowing he was watching, she slowly and deliberately licked the sticky sweetness of the drying drink from her fingers. _That would be inconvenient, wouldn_t it? Whatever would you do?_ She made big, mocking eyes at him. _Mademoiselle Dumont, there you are! We must get you into place!_ Pierre Lafont, the theater_s resident stage manager, came panting up. Around fifty, short and flush-faced with a shiny bald head and a suit that, by the way it hung on him, revealed that he had once been a much heavier man, he seemed to be perpetually sweating. _I know, Pierre. I was delayed._ The quick smile she gave him was apologetic. If anything went awry, it was he, not she, who would suffer reprisals. _Herr Obergruppenf?hrer Wagner is once again honoring us with his presence._ Pierre_s tone was carefully neutral: it was dangerous to say anything that was not extremely complimentary about any of the Nazi officers clogging Paris, but Wagner, the SS_s most notorious interrogator, inspired more fear than most. Pierre_s eyes, however, revealed his true state of mind: they were round with nerves. _He is in his usual seat._ _How lovely,_ she said. Including tonight, they had five nights remaining in their three-week run at this, the Casino de Paris, one of the city_s most famous music halls. She had first become aware of Wagner_s attendance on the night of her second show, when he_d had an enormous bouquet of flowers along with a note of extravagant praise for her performance carried to her onstage during curtain calls. He hadn_t missed a show since. _You_ve acquired quite a notable admirer, it seems._ Max_s expression matched his voice: bland as an almond. She wanted to slay him with a glance. Instead, mindful that they weren_t alone, she smiled. _It seems I have,_ she agreed, and had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes narrow. She swept ahead of him into the backstage area, careful to stay out of the way of the girls in the wings as they ran in two at a time to join the high-kicking double chorus line revolving onstage. She was in costume, in a tight, strapless black bustier-style bodysuit glittering with sequins that lent her slender figure a voluptuousness it didn_t actually possess and a full, trailing skirt composed of dyed-black ostrich feathers that made opulent swishing sounds as they brushed across the stage_s wooden floor. The skirt parted in front to showcase her long, slim legs in sheer black stockings that were attached to the bodysuit by black satin suspenders. Black peep-toe shoes, a black velvet ribbon worn as a choker, and a headdress of three tall black ostrich plumes completed her ensemble, which was designed to play off both a repeating line in her finale song about waiting for a lover who would return as surely as birds come home to their nest and the nickname Max and his team had bestowed on her. Inspired, she assumed, by her coloring_black hair, milky skin and changeable blue-green eyes_they had dubbed her the Black Swan. At this very moment the nickname, along with her image on the aforementioned swing, adorned large posters plastered all over Paris: The Black Swan Sings! The Black Swan Swings! Come See the Black Swan in Seasons of Love at the Casino de Paris, April 29 to May 21! _Mademoiselle. If you will._ Pierre scurried around her to gesture anxiously at the ladderlike staircase that led to the catwalk high above. _Afterward we go to the party at the Spanish embassy,_ Max reminded her in an undertone as she put a foot on the first of the rung-like steps. Ah, yes, the Spanish embassy, where she would be expected to once again put her life on the line by helping him with his spying. _I_m feeling a little under the weather. Perhaps I_ll be too ill to attend._ She threw the riposte over her shoulder. Her words were purely an attempt to irritate him. Refusing was not an option, she knew. _By then the effects of the champagne will have worn off._ She was already climbing and used that as an excuse to pretend she hadn_t heard. Her head swam unexpectedly. Maybe she really had overdone it with the drinking_all right, she had_but her encounter with baby Anna combined with today_s date had just been too much to bear. Max was right_it was important that she keep a clear head, but the pain had been so searingly intense that if she hadn_t found something to dull it, she wouldn_t have been able to function at all. Max should be thankful she_d managed to get through the show, she thought, and took a firmer grip on the iron safety rails and paid extra attention to how she placed her feet. If she were to fall. She had a lightning vision of an open window, of curtains fluttering in the breeze. Her mind reeled. Her heart took a great leap in her chest. She froze in place, utterly unable to move. For the briefest of moments, it felt as if time and space had dissolved. With a major effort of will, she banished the horrifying snippet of memory. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to keep climbing. When she reached the top_a breath-stealing height_she stepped out onto the narrow metal catwalk. Keeping a tight grip on the rail, she glanced down to find that, while Pierre had gone, Max still stood at the foot of the stairs where she had left him. His head was tipped back as he watched her. A swirl of color and activity surrounded him as the chorus girls, in their jewel-toned bird costumes, hurried to line up for the closing number, jostling one another and the exiting cancan dancers, but he remained unmoving, a study in austere black. _Mademoiselle Dumont, forgive me, but we must hurry. The overture is beginning._ Startled by the whisper_she hadn_t heard anyone approach_she looked up to find one of the stagehands at her elbow. His name was Yves, she remembered, and yes, he was right, there were the opening violins. Carefully gripping the guardrail, she followed him along the catwalk to where the elaborately gilded and flower-festooned swing awaited her. He helped her get into position on the narrow velvet seat, then spread the long feathers of her skirt out behind her so that they would fall just right. She adjusted her headdress and the front of her skirt to show her legs to best advantage and listened as the rest of the orchestra joined the violins. The idea with this number was that she was supposed to be a bird on the kind of arched swing typically found in bird cages. Suspended high above the audience, she would sing the popular love song that was almost always a showstopper. _Ready, mademoiselle?_ Yves asked. At her nod he signaled the stagehands who worked the crank that would swing her out into the darkness high above the audience and then lower her until she was in the center of the cavernous open space. He unhooked the tether that had held the swing in place and gave her a push, and she was away. The first movement of the swing was always the worst, a wide arc that was dizzying at the best of times. Tonight the effects of the champagne magnified the vertiginous feeling until she couldn_t be quite sure whether the room was spinning or her head was. Holding on tightly, she took in the horseshoe shape of the vast auditorium, the tiers of boxes rising nearly to the domed ceiling, the orchestra seats far below. Once, as a starstruck eleven-year-old, she_d sat in one of those seats with her family, practically vibrating with excitement. Her mother sat on her right, her sister on her left and her father on her sister_s other side. They_d been happy then, the four of them, with no idea at all of what the future held. She and her sister clasped hands, rapt, as they watched Josephine Baker on that very same stage where she now performed. The trip to the theater had been a surprise treat that their parents had arranged, despite the slightly risqu? nature of the show, because she and her sister had been such fans. She could still remember the glittering costumes, the live doves released onstage to fly out over the audience_and how electrified she_d been by the singer herself, with her easy charisma and bright, jazzy voice. That was the first time she_d known: I want to be a singer. But such a thing then, had seemed ridiculous, impossible. She_d been part of a family, part of a world, and as such had carried the weight of expectations and hopes and dreams that were not necessarily her own, even though, at the time, she_d never even thought to question them. Ironically, in the end she_d gotten what she_d wished for that night, but the cost had been_everything. Everything she_d loved. Everyone she_d loved. That world she_d inhabited_precious in retrospect_ripped asunder. The realization was almost more than she could bear. The ache in her chest was crushing in its intensity. Her suddenly blurry gaze swept over red velvet upholstery and gilded moldings and the gorgeous arched stained-glass window that was the Casino de Paris_s trademark_where she found the slap in the face she needed to bring the present back into focus. Tonight, just as it had been every night of her run and presumably every night of the last four years, the iconic window was defaced by the giant swastika banner draped across it. Her stomach clenched as she stared at it. It seemed to take over the space, just as the Germans had taken over everything else in Paris. Shops, bookstores, caf?s, restaurants, theaters, music halls, even brothels, were overrun with them. They filled the buses, the trains, the sidewalks, the streets. Swastikas hung from the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame: the conquerors_ silent crow of victory. The Louvre was empty of paintings, the schools were missing students, shops were closed, houses left empty. Their occupation of the city had devolved into a reign of terror, but from the beginning they had made a point of promoting and protecting the arts. Even while they imposed untold suffering on millions, they seemed determined to show the world that the cultural life of Paris was flourishing under their rule. Although nearly everything performance related required approval from the Propaganda Staffel, artists of all description were given tremendous leeway by the otherwise brutally restrictive regime. Composers, playwrights, musicians, actors, dancers and singers were celebrated. In Germany, Paris was touted as the new holiday resort for the Herrenvolk. The Nazi motto of Jeder einmal in Paris, _Everyone once in Paris,_ promised each German soldier at least one month in the City of Light. The soldiers, particularly the officers, flocked to visit, bringing their wives and children with them to shop and sightsee and be entertained. Looking down as she was lowered into place, Genevieve saw that seats were filled with a sea of gray-green uniforms. The Nazis continued to turn out for her in droves. She thought of her Aryan certificate, which she was required to possess to appear onstage, tucked away in a drawer in her dressing room. She thought of Anna_and Anna_s mother. She thought of_ She felt suddenly nauseous. And it had nothing at all to do with the champagne. Her hands gripped the chains so tightly she could feel, through their velvet casing, the metal links digging into her skin. The familiar whoosh of the curtains opening revealed dozens of chorus girls in their bright bird plumage pirouetting across the stage. Soon more would enter from the back of the auditorium and dance down the aisles, twirling chiffon scarves above their heads to simulate birds in flight. Beautiful staging for a beautiful song. The spotlight hit her. Its warmth was welcome. Its brightness was blinding. The audience looked up as one. Genevieve took a deep breath. You can do this. One more time. Swinging languorously above their heads, Genevieve smiled down at the upturned faces and began to sing. _J_attendrai._ Chapter Four They started first on Jean-Claude. Both he and Andre had been stripped to their skivvies, then chained to metal chairs bolted to the stone floor. The chairs were perhaps six feet apart, with a spotlight on a stand between them. The spotlight was turned so it pointed at Jean-Claude. He blinked nervously and licked his lips, trapped in a pool of bright white light. Without so much as asking him a question, one of them grabbed his smallest finger and pulled the nail off with pliers. Jean-Claude screamed. A stream of his urine hit the floor, puddling under the chair. The ammonia stench instantly overrode the dank smell of the cellar where the three of them had been taken. Lying in a bloody, bruised heap on the cold floor in the shadows near the wall, Lillian retched, a dry heave that brought up nothing. That was because she_d already vomited up everything in her stomach when they_d beaten her for trying to get away from them, for fighting to reach Paul. Oh, Paul. By now, some eighteen hours after the blood had come spurting out of his chest, reality had set in. He was gone. She was riven with grief. She could not live. Death was no longer something she feared. It was something she longed for, so she could continue on with him. Images of the past, happy images_her with Paul, her with her little girls, the four of them together, gathered around the table for a meal, splashing in the surf at the beach, laughing together always as the loving, close family they_d been in the good days before the world fell apart_flashed in and out of her mind. They were both a comfort and a torment. _Now we will talk, yes?_ The interrogator leaned in, smiling amiably as he picked up Jean-Claude_s damaged hand. With his forearm chained to the chair so that his hand dangled over the end of its arm, Jean-Claude could only curl his uninjured fingers in a futile attempt at protecting them. The German continued, _You know the penalty for what you have done is death, do you not? But perhaps I will be merciful. If you tell me what I want to know. But I warn you_do not lie to me._ _No, no, I would not lie,_ Jean-Claude gasped. _Are you a loyal subject of the regime?_ He stroked a caressing thumb over the back of Jean-Claude_s hand. _Y-yes,_ Jean-Claude quavered. He panted rather than breathed. Fear had rendered his eyes round as coins. _You lie._ The interrogator_s tone turned vicious. Grabbing Jean-Claude_s ring finger, he yanked off another nail. Jean-Claude screamed and flailed to the extent he could while bound so tightly to the chair. Eyes closed, Andre poured sweat and muttered prayers under his breath. Lillian lay where they had dumped her, broken in body and soul. For Jean-Claude and Andre, she felt a profound sadness. They still wished to live. She doubted they would, any of them, beyond this night. They asked Jean-Claude his name. Where he lived. He answered both questions in a trembling voice. Who lived there with him. He hesitated to answer that one. Lillian completely understood. He was devoted to his old mother, and he feared for her. The Nazis were known to ruthlessly torture and execute whole families if one member was discovered to belong to the Resistance. They took the pliers to another nail. He screamed out his mother_s name as they yanked it off, then dropped his head and between sobs moaned, _Mother, forgive me._ _Who do you know in the Resistance?_ The interrogator was a German officer, a small man with a pale, pinched face. Another German officer, arms crossed over his chest, looked on. He was taller than the other man, tall enough so that his head came close to brushing the low, beamed ceiling. His back was turned to Lillian as he focused on Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude stuttered in his haste to name names. He gave up everyone in the Resistance that he knew. Fortunately, he knew by name only her, Paul, Andre and one other. That was their way, their rule. One_s own cell, and a contact. In case of an arrest, it prevented the whole network from being brought down. The contact he named_Eugene Ingres_had been killed the previous week in a botched attempt to blow up a train trestle. The Nazis knew that and repaid Jean-Claude for his proffering of useless information by ripping off another nail. Lillian knew that, too, because Paul had been informed of Ingres_s death, and Paul had shared what he knew with her as naturally as he breathed. It was she who kept secrets, while he was as open as a sunny day. Had been. Paul had been as open as a sunny day. Acknowledging the past tense left her gutted. _This attack they say is coming, this invasion by the Allies__ the interrogator sneered as he said the word __what do you know of it?_ Lillian tensed at the question. Jean-Claude knew nothing of the planned invasion beyond the rumors that were flying through the general population. Neither did Andre. The whole world seemed to know an attack was coming, but in France only a select few at the highest levels of the Resistance had been told anything concrete. Those few who had been briefed included_had included_Paul. And because Paul had known, so did she. It was why they had been gathering samples of sand: to test if they contained enough rock particles to enable the beach to bear the weight of tanks and other heavy equipment when they rolled ashore. If the beach sand could not stand up to the weight, the tanks and vehicles would bog down in sand that was too fine and be rendered useless. It was why they had been taking photographs and mapping minefields. The Allied invasion was near, just as the Nazis feared, and contrary to what they were being led to believe_misinformation was being planted everywhere_it was to begin here, on the beaches of Normandy. When the bastards got to her, how long would she be able to keep silent? She would not, could not, reveal what she knew. But this horror they were perpetrating on Jean-Claude. She was human. She did not think she could withstand such torture for long. She began to tremble. Even that tiny degree of movement hurt, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. She did not fear death. She did fear pain, mutilation, abasement. Almost as much as she feared betraying her country by giving up the secret that had been entrusted to Paul. Paul, you have to help me. Please come for me. I want to go with you. But despite her fervent plea, her heart continued to beat, and she continued to breathe. Voice faltering, Jean-Claude said, _I know nothing. Only what I have heard. Rumors, you understand. That an invasion is coming. Perhaps. No one can say for sure._ The interrogator leaned closer, moving the pliers threateningly up and down centimeters from Jean-Claude_s body. Jean-Claude panted and shook as he followed the movement of those pliers with his eyes. Four of his fingernails were gone now. Those fingers ended in raw stumps that dripped blood. Beneath the glaring spotlight, he looked skeletal, his bones showing through his skin, which was the grayish-white of a corpse. Darting in with fiendish swiftness, the pliers latched onto his right nipple, squeezed and twisted. Jean-Claude shrieked. The pliers was withdrawn, only to hover threateningly over Jean-Claude_s other nipple. _You will tell me where this invasion is coming, and when._ Chest heaving as he sobbed, Jean-Claude tried to shrink away from the tool_s bloodied metal tip. The upright chair was unforgiving, holding him in place. _I know nothing__ Jean-Claude_s voice went shrill as the pliers touched his skin, caressed it. _No, no, wait, I have heard_Pas-de-Calais. We have all heard it is to be at Pas-de-Calais._ Pas-de-Calais was wrong, a deliberate piece of misinformation spread through double agents and suspected informers so assiduously that it was being whispered everywhere. As he said it, she saw the light: when they turned to her, Pas-de-Calais was the answer she must school herself to give, in extremis, no matter what. God grant me strength. _How do you know this?_ From the corner of her eye, Lillian saw that Andre was shaking in his chair. _I_I__ Jean-Claude faltered. _As I said, it is a rumor. I__ The pliers darted in, grabbed Jean-Claude_s other nipple, twisted and yanked, pulling off a bloody chunk of flesh. His shriek hurt her eardrums, caused her heart to leap into her throat and turned her stomach inside out with a terrible mix of pity and fear. Blood ran down his chest, tracing a bright red line through the dark hairs that grew there. He sobbed in great hiccuping gasps. _I have no time to waste on rumors. Who would know the truth?_ The pliers returned to grip the first nipple, now red and engorged. _Who?_ _No, no, do not, I beg you! I will tell you all! Madame!_ His eyes shot desperately in her direction. Lillian caught her breath. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck catapulted upright in horror at what he might be about to say. He knew how she and Paul had been. _Madame, forgive me__ He broke off, choking on a sob. Tears poured down his cheeks. The pliers twisted. _She knows!_ Jean-Claude arched screaming in his chair. The sound bounced off the stone walls, the ceiling, the floor, so loud and horrifying it made even the interrogator wince. And then it stopped, just like that, cutting off from one second to the next. Jean-Claude gasped, only once. His eyes rolled back in his head. His face went pale and slack. Mouth still open wide, he slumped sideways in his chair. Drool spilled from the corner of his mouth. There was a moment of shocked silence. Even Andre ceased his muttered prayers. _You_what have you done? He was talking!_ The second German shoved the first out of the way as he leaped toward Jean-Claude, checking his pulse, lifting his eyelids. He_d reverted to German, but she knew enough of the language to pick up the meaning. _His heart has stopped! You_ve killed him, you fool!_ _Is it my fault that he was weak? That his heart was weak?_ The interrogator slapped Jean-Claude_s face, slammed his fist into his chest. _Wake up, bl?der Hund!_ Then, urgently, to his compatriot, he said, _Help me get him on the floor._ Cursing each other, shouting for reinforcements from upstairs, they got Jean-Claude out of the chair and laid him out on the floor. A quartet of soldiers clattered down to join them, but it was soon clear that there was nothing to be done. Jean-Claude was dead. His heart had given out, from fear or pain or some combination of the two. Lillian could not help thinking that, of the three of them, he was the fortunate one. Dizzy with sorrow and fear, she closed her eyes as his limp body was carried upstairs. Sweat drenched her. She was cold, so cold. When they came back. Please, Paul, please come, please, please, please. _Baroness!_ Andre whispered. He had to repeat her name twice before his voice broke through the haze of despair that gripped her. She opened her eyes. They were alone in the cellar. Andre said, _In the corner. The bleach. Baroness. Can you reach it?_ Lillian frowned, then followed the direction of his eyes to a small table in the corner. Flanked by a bucket and mops, it held what looked like cleaning supplies. The ever meticulous Germans were prepared to tidy up after torturing their victims, it seemed. _The blue container. Bring it to me. Hurry._ The urgency of Andre_s voice communicated itself to her. Enlightenment dawned. She didn_t need to ask him why: she knew. It was a way out. My God, how has it come to this? She took a deep, steadying breath. Alone of the three of them, she_d been left unbound, whether because she was a woman and was therefore not considered a threat or because of the extent of the injuries they had inflicted on her, she didn_t know. _They_ll be back at any minute._ Andre_s hoarse warning came as she dragged herself to her feet. Her coat was gone. Her sweater and trousers were torn and filthy. She could hardly stand and had to lean against the wall, scooting along it to reach the table. Moving brought shafts of pain. She gritted her teeth and kept going. Her right arm_was it broken? It didn_t matter. She picked up the container of bleach with her left hand, then shuffled toward Andre. _Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,_ Andre prayed as she reached him. His eyes opened. To her he said, _Hold it so I can drink._ She got the lid off, managed to get the container to his lips. Their eyes met. His were cloudy with tears, dark with desperation. Afraid. Just as she was afraid. But what choice was left to them? He tilted his head back, bade her continue with a gesture. _God be with you, my friend,_ she whispered, and tilted the container so that the contents poured into his open mouth. He gulped mightily once, twice, as the bleach fumes assaulted her nose and made her eyes burn. Then he jerked his head away and began to choke and struggle, fighting the terrible effects of the chemical. White foam bubbled from his mouth, dripped down his chin. He made horrible sounds as his body spasmed, fighting the chains, convulsing in the chair. She fell back, overcome with horror, with fear. I can_t_ The sound of booted footsteps on the stairs made her glance around. _What the hell.?_ The interrogator, with the other officer behind him, came into view. He stopped halfway down the stairs, his expression changing ludicrously as he took in the situation with a glance. Her eyes met his. For the space of perhaps a heartbeat, an image arose in her mind of her girls, not grown as they were now, but the little ones they had been, one fair, one dark, each reaching out to her. Maman_ Goodbye, she told them silently. I love you. Tears stung her eyes. Her heart slammed in her chest. She lifted the bottle. _Stop!_ he shouted at her, leaping down the remaining stairs. With the other officer barreling after him, he hit the floor running. Summoning every last bit of courage that remained to her, Lillian put the bottle of bleach to her lips and drank. Chapter Five _Smile,_ Max hissed in Genevieve_s ear as they walked in the door. The servant who_d admitted them had turned away to open the door to someone else, so they were essentially alone in the entry hall. _You_re one of them, remember. Part of the elite group. That_s how we get this done._ By them, he was referring to the collaborators, those with whom the Germans socialized, who cozied up to them, who were living high off their association with them while the rest of the country, the rest of Europe, suffered. In other words, including the Germans themselves, who were even worse, practically everyone at the party. _I am smiling._ _You look like you sucked on a lemon._ _I told you I don_t feel well. It_s the best I can do._ _Try harder._ Drawing back her lips, she bared her teeth in an enormous grin. Just to show him. _There you go. Beauty personified._ He chucked her under her chin, which he knew full well would annoy her. Then he left her to see to the safe disposal of their coats. She scowled after him before turning to brave the party on her own. As she was greeted by their host, the Spanish consul, General Eduardo Castellano, and his wife, Sophie, and drawn into the small group of guests nearest the foyer, Genevieve managed to put the true purpose of her presence out of her head. Despite a headache that beat like a drum against her temples, she summoned up a dazzling smile that she hoped looked more genuine than it felt and set herself to being charming. _We were enchanted by your wonderful performance. My wife was in tears, I give you my word!_ _Where did you train, my dear? Such an extraordinary voice!_ _Can you believe this weather? So cold this week, and now this terrible rain!_ _After Paris, where does your tour take you? Will you leave France?_ _If she is lucky, it will be someplace warmer._ Feeling like her smile was growing more rigid by the minute, Genevieve circulated, exchanged air-kisses, answered questions, made small talk and held on as if for dear life to the smooth, hard stem of the champagne flute someone had thoughtfully provided her with a few minutes before. The possible effects of overindulgence she_d experienced earlier had faded, leaving her feeling as sober as a park bench. Which was good, because the only way she was going to make it through the rest of this night was with the help of liquid fortification. She glanced around for Max and failed to find him. Whatever he was doing_and she doubted it was limited to supervising the bestowal of their coats_was taking him far too long. Tonight of all nights she needed him with her to parry the questions, to deflect the curious stares, to stand between her and the effusive interest bombarding her on all sides. The glittering star persona she assumed for such gatherings was firmly in place, but inside she was a quivering mess. Not because of Anna, or what had happened the previous night or even the danger of this job he had coerced her into, or at least not primarily because of those things. There was still an hour remaining in what was for her this most dreaded of days: May 16, the date of one little girl_s birth, and another little girl_s death. She would dearly love to be able to blot both events from her consciousness, but she was beginning to think that no matter what she did, forgetting was never going to be possible. On this of all days, the past would not leave her alone. Her wound was buried deep, but it was still there, still raw and painful. Holding Anna in her arms had been the equivalent of rubbing salt in it. The only thing that made her grief even remotely bearable was that no one who was in her life now knew anything about it, so there was no one to note the significance of the day, no one to mark it or remind her. The memories, and the pain, were hers alone. Just a little longer, and she would be through it. _Mademoiselle Dumont, I was fortunate enough to hear you sing at Neue Burg in Vienna last summer._ _He cherishes the photograph he took with you there, showing it to all of us whenever he wants to feel superior._ The German officers in front of her were large, blond and bucolic, very polite, as were all the invaders: the Wehrmacht had been ordered to treat the French with dignity to avoid arousing the hatred of the populace. Even now that the war was going less well for them, with North Africa fallen to the Allies, Sicily conquered, the Russians routing the Germans on the eastern front, massive bombing raids on German cities and whispers of a looming Allied invasion of France being bandied about everywhere, their good manners did not fail. The second officer was laughing at the first, who reddened. Genevieve laughed, too, said something along the lines of Vienna is so beautiful, one of my favorite cities, and moved on. The truth was she remembered that night well. At Max_s instigation, she_d had her picture taken with dozens of concertgoers. There_d been a reason: a prominent scientist and his family on the run from the Nazis had been hidden among the crowd, and the photos taken of them that night had been used to forge travel documents that had allowed them to make their way out of the country to safety disguised as part of her troupe_s entourage. _Traveling as you do sounds so exciting! Tell me, what is it like being on tour?_ _I heard you over the radio earlier today. The song you sang_so lovely_and then to know that I would see you perform it in person tonight__ Being on tour is terrifying, because we_re often risking death by smuggling someone or something across some border or another. And that lovely song I sang over the radio today? It was a signal to an agent. But of course she couldn_t say that. Instead she murmured platitudes and smiled. What people saw when they looked at her was Genevieve Dumont, the singer, the star. That_s what they wanted to see, what they expected to see. They thought they knew all about her, about her success, her happiness, her life that seemed charmed in this time of madness. But the face she showed the world was not who she was inside. She excused herself and continued through the room. The Spanish embassy was a large mansion constructed of smooth, pale stone. Protected by a black iron fence and large gates, it stood on the right bank of the Seine in the eighth arrondissement. For the occasion of tonight_s party, it was guarded by a contingent of tightly wound German soldiers who had searched everyone as they entered, with only a handful of exceptions. They were on edge because Paris was experiencing more unrest than usual. On April 1, the Waffen-SS had massacred 86 innocent civilians in Ascq in retaliation for the explosion that had derailed a train carrying the Twelfth SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Resistance activity had heightened as a result. The cross of Lorraine, that symbol of the Resistance, was appearing everywhere, painted on the sides of buildings, carved into train trestles, erected and set ablaze in the center courtyard of the Sorbonne. A little over three weeks ago, an Allied bombardment had killed over 670 people in porte de la Chapelle in the eighteenth arrondissement. Last week an explosive had been hurled into a Montmartre restaurant packed with German soldiers, killing a number of them. The 5:00 p.m. curfew imposed on the city as a result had just been reextended until the more usual 9:00 p.m. After that hour, the whole of Paris went dark, and from the outside at least, the embassy was no exception, party or no. Once the lights were out, the sound of jackboots on pavement sent whole blocks into hiding, in cellars and closets and under beds. Like the one she had witnessed the previous night, most raids occurred during the curfew hours of 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Anyone caught outdoors without a pass during those hours was subject to arrest. Citizens who had business outside their homes after curfew scurried through the streets like rats, heads down, intent on their destinations, hoping to avoid the patrols that had the power to stop anyone at any time and demand to see their papers. And if those papers were found to be not in order, or if for any reason suspicion was aroused, the patrols arrested as they pleased. People went out and never came back. Because of her fame, Genevieve had a pass that exempted her from being searched_she was one of the handful who had been permitted to enter the embassy unmolested_which was why Max had insisted she come tonight despite her continued (perfectly true) protests that she was feeling unwell. In her evening bag was information to be passed on to his contact in the embassy and from there carried out of France. Its mere presence on her person was enough to keep her heart knocking in her chest and her stomach in a permanent knot. It was also enough to get her killed: the Nazis were ruthless in dealing with anyone who dared oppose them, and in this atmosphere of heightened tension, they would be merciless even, she feared, to one such as her. _Everyone who has seen it praises your show to the skies,_ a gentleman stopped her to say. _Alas, it is sold out! Who do I have to know to obtain tickets?_ _Jacques, do not pester Mademoiselle Dumont,_ his wife beside him said. _Do you think she carries extra tickets in her bag?_ In involuntary reflex, Genevieve_s hand went to the bag in question, clutching it close to her side, excruciatingly aware of what was tucked inside the beaded satin pouch that hung from her shoulder by a delicate silver chain. Realizing the telltale nature of what she had done, she smiled, sipped from her glass to combat the sudden dryness of her mouth, and dropped her hand. After a few more words exchanged, she walked away, only to be intercepted by two other people. _My dear, your dress is simply exquisite!_ _You must tell us_is it a Lanvin?_ Her long gown of slinky, clinging silver lam? was indeed by Jeanne Lanvin, who was one of the few couturiers still working in Paris. It was cleverly slit up the front to reveal one leg, but only when she moved. Dangling diamond earrings sparkled against the loose, cascading black waves that tumbled around her shoulders. Her lipstick was crimson, her high heels silver. In the process of becoming Genevieve Dumont, the star, she had become adept at transforming her rather ordinary prettiness into a dazzling facade as required. Tonight she looked, as her dresser Berthe, who had helped her change from her stage costume into this evening ensemble, had told her, _like a million Reichsmarks. I would have said francs, but we all know those aren_t worth anything anymore._ Although no lights were visible from the outside due to the tightly drawn blackout curtains, inside the mansion the party was shifting into high gear. Music, laughter and much animated conversation filled the air as the Spaniards played hosts to more than a hundred favored Parisians along with a smattering of guests of other nationalities and a full complement of high-ranking Germans, all of whom seemed anxious to meet her. Beautiful furnishings, rich carpets and valuable paintings formed a lavish backdrop for bejeweled ladies in evening gowns and gentlemen in tuxedos or military uniforms. But the real luxuries were the heated rooms and the abundance of food and drink, all of which were in desperately short supply in Paris, and indeed throughout France and the rest of Occupied Europe. Spain was officially neutral but had demonstrated a marked partiality for the Axis powers. Its calculated flirtation with the Nazis had not only kept it from being invaded but had resulted in its being able to obtain items completely unavailable to anyone except the Germans themselves. Such as, for example, the ingredients used to create the small but succulent curl of meat-stuffed pastry on the tray of canap?s currently being offered to her by a bowing waiter. Paris seemed to be one of the few places on earth that still had plenty of food_and such food!_although only for the Germans and their hangers-on. Which now, to all outward appearances at least, included her. The canap? was mouth-wateringly alluring, and if she didn_t eat it, someone else at the party would. Genevieve popped it into her mouth, guilt pangs about the deprivations being suffered by her less fortunate fellow citizens notwithstanding. She needed to eat if she was going to drink, and for the next hour or so she was definitely going to drink. _Mademoiselle, would you care for more champagne?_ _Thank you, yes._ Genevieve accepted another waiter_s offer with a wag of her empty glass and replaced it with one that was not. Laughing gaily at some witticism uttered by a prosperous-looking Belgian that she didn_t even entirely hear, she moved on only to be pulled into conversation with a knot of admirers that included several more Wehrmacht officers. She nodded and smiled, replied as necessary, and sipped her champagne, enjoying the smooth, cool slide of it over her tongue and the way the tiny bubbles in the golden liquid glistened as the light passed through it. Her talent as an actress was not even in the same galaxy as her talent as a singer, but now she was operating mostly on autopilot, which made things easier. The party, the other guests, the soldiers were starting to go a little fuzzy around the edges. The feeling of disassociation from her surroundings she was experiencing was actually good. It was easing the worst of her nerves. Her heart rate was almost normal now, and the knot in her stomach had loosened. The party, which she had dreaded as she did all such fraught-with-peril events, was starting to seem not so terrible after all. _Mademoiselle Dumont._ Someone touched her elbow. _If I may be so bold_I was told that you would be willing to honor our small gathering with a song? I would not presume to bother you, but as you know, it is the anniversary of the marriage of our consul general and his wife._ Genevieve knew who he was: the Spanish press attach?, Bernardo Santaella, a small, dapper man with brilliantined black hair and a swooping mustache. She suspected that he was Max_s contact in the embassy, but not only did she not know for certain, she didn_t want to know for certain. In ignorance lay some small measure of safety. Or at least so she told herself. _Yes, of course. The honor is mine. I_ve even brought a song with me especially for the occasion._ Responding as instructed by Max, Genevieve drank rather than sipped at her champagne as she followed Santaella through two arched doorways and across meters of polished marble toward the grand piano. Gleaming black, with a closed lid, the magnificent Steinway was situated sideways before a large, heavily curtained bow window at the far end of the most imposing of the crowded reception rooms. Above it a chandelier glittered and gleamed. Smiling in response to the stream of compliments and comments directed her way by those she passed, she did her best to focus on the performance and nothing more. Before Max_where was he?_she had never considered herself to be of a particularly fearful disposition, but despite the deadening effects of the champagne, knowing the true purpose of what she was about to do made her hands sweat. Which was not so good for someone who was getting ready to accompany herself on the piano as she sang. _Can I get you anything, Mademoiselle Dumont?_ Santaella pulled out the piano bench for her and bowed. A detachable microphone was affixed to the fallboard, and a selection of bound sheet music waited on the music desk. It was clear that the piano was regularly used to entertain the embassy_s guests. He nodded at her nearly empty glass. _More champagne?_ _Yes._ Smoothing her skirt beneath her as she sat down, she sipped at the fresh champagne that a waiter brought at Santaella_s gesture, then placed the tulip-shaped glass on the piano_s satin-smooth lid. _Thanks._ As Santaella bowed and moved away, she pulled her bag into her lap. Snapping open the clasp, she fumbled to extract the folded booklet of sheet music she_d brought with her. It held, among others, the song she_d been asked to perform. Since her arrival at the party, she_d been on tenterhooks waiting for this moment. Now that it was here, she tried without success to ignore the butterflies taking flight in her stomach. Folded, the booklet of perhaps a dozen songs was several centimeters thick. She managed to get it out, unfolded it so that the title_Enter Springtime_was uppermost and propped it on the music desk. A prolonged, exuberant finish from the roving accordion players who_d beguiled partygoers for the past quarter hour crescendoed to a triumphant flourish as she flexed her fingers, stretched them silently over the keys, made herself ready. A semicircular arrangement of chairs was being placed for special guests around the side of the piano that faced the room. Santaella was over near the chairs now, conferring with another member of the embassy_s staff. He would be announcing her at any minute, she knew. You have only to sing and play, and it_s over. You can go back to the hotel and go to bed. Conscious of how tense she was, she relaxed her shoulders, her arms, her wrists, her fingers. _Mademoiselle Dumont, well met!_ The male voice with its guttural German accent was accompanied by a heavy hand dropping onto her shoulder. She barely managed not to jump, glanced around to see who would approach her at such a moment and found herself looking up into a clean-shaven face with squinty blue eyes, a fleshy nose and a thin-lipped mouth above a jutting chin. The gray-green SS officer_s uniform he wore had gorget patches of pips and oak leaves and glittering hardware that indicated his high rank. The swastika pinned to his tie glittered in the light. Fortyish; short fair hair shiny with hair tonic, worn in a slicked-back, middle-parted style; stocky build. Not unhandsome but_chilling. It was, she thought, something to do with his eyes. Her heart lurched: they hadn_t met, but she knew who he was. A smile cracked his face, stretched his mouth until she saw that he had twin dimples in his cheeks. He beamed down at her. _I was hoping to encounter you here! If you will permit me to introduce myself, I am Obergruppenf?hrer Claus von Wagner. I have greatly enjoyed your performances, as I hope you have enjoyed my small tributes to them?_ He meant the huge bunches of flowers he_d had carried up to her during every one of the last week_s curtain calls. Genevieve did her best to arrange her face into an expression as close to delight as she could contrive. _Herr Obergruppenf?hrer of the beautiful flowers._ She shifted on the bench so that she could more easily look up at him. _I have so enjoyed them. Their perfume has filled my dressing room for days. Thank you for your kindness in sending them._ _Not at all. It has been my pleasure. I understand that you will be honoring us with a private performance tonight. What song have you chosen? I hope I may have the privilege of turning the pages for you as you play?_ He reached past her to pick up the booklet of songs she_d just placed on the music desk. His expression indicated that he had no doubt about her agreement. Genevieve_s smile froze in place as he began to casually flip through the pages. Her heart thumped. Her stomach turned inside out. Besides the usual musical notations, each page of the booklet he was thumbing through was scribbled over with information on German troop, ship and munition movements, ship and rail cargoes and their routes, and other material intended to aid the Allied forces in targeting their attacks. She was to leave it behind when she finished; it would be picked up and passed on. The fact that the information was written in invisible ink and could not be seen until exposed to direct heat or some other reconstituting agent did nothing to ease her burgeoning panic. Especially as he trailed his fingers_his warm fingers_down the page he was looking at. Even beyond the degree of heat given off by his hands, was it possible that he might be able to feel the hidden writing? Could a telltale roughness be there on the paper? Anxiety squeezed her chest. Her gaze was riveted on the booklet in his hand, she realized, and she jerked it up to his face just as he glanced at her questioningly. He was waiting for her to reply. What could she do? What could she say? To deny him might raise suspicion. Alternatively, if he discovered the secret writing. Cold sweat broke out across the back of her neck. There was no help for it. She was going to have to say that she preferred to turn the pages herself and get it away from him. Around the sudden tightness in her throat_not good for a singer_she began, _Herr Obergruppenf?hrer._ Chapter Six _I_m afraid if you want to turn the pages, you_ll have to settle for doing it for me._ Max_s voice was the most welcome sound Genevieve had ever heard. It was all she could do not to melt from gratitude as he walked past her. Pulling the Gauloise he was smoking from his mouth, he strolled up to Wagner with outward ease and added, _I_m the piano player tonight. The sheet music is for me. Genevieve doesn_t need it. She knows every song in the world by heart._ _Oh, but I thought_Mademoiselle Dumont is known to accompany herself on the piano. I have heard she plays beautifully._ _Not tonight._ Max was smiling. Wagner wasn_t. _I_m very tired._ Smiling apologetically up at Wagner even as her heart raced, Genevieve threw herself into the breach. _From my show, you understand. I have only enough energy left to sing._ As Wagner looked from one to the other of them, Max shrugged, an excellent rendition of the ubiquitous Gallic gesture: Women, what can you do? Genevieve forgot to breathe as Max returned the cigarette to his mouth and held out his hand, oh so casually, for the booklet. Rangy and handsome in his white dinner jacket, looking every bit the typical Frenchman with his dark hair and eyes and perpetual tan, Max would have been the taller of the two if it hadn_t been for the slight twist to his body from leaning on his stick. It was clear Wagner didn_t like being thwarted. His eyes narrowed. His lips pursed. _Ladies and gentlemen, if you will gather around, we have a wonderful treat in store for us!_ Santaella_s voice boomed, startling Genevieve into glancing in his direction. The room was crowded now, with more people pouring in through the arched doorway. The consul general, his wife and special guests were being escorted to the chairs that had been set out for them. _As you know, we are here tonight to celebrate the wedding anniversary of our esteemed consul general and his lovely wife. In honor of this most festive occasion, Mademoiselle Genevieve Dumont, the incomparable Black Swan, has consented to sing a very special song for us!_ All eyes were suddenly on her. Genevieve could only pray that the tension stretching her nerves to near breaking point didn_t show on her face. Lifting a hand, she smiled and waved from her spot on the piano bench. People began to applaud. The consul general, his wife and guests settled into their designated chairs. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Wagner grudgingly hand the booklet to Max and felt the smallest soup?on of relief: at least the incriminating thing was out of his hands. As the applause swelled, Max stubbed out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and slid onto the bench. He was on the side nearer the rich blue of the curtains, his damaged leg stretched out stiffly, while she was on the side nearer the audience. They were so close their bodies brushed. Returning the booklet to the music desk, he flipped it open and settled down to play. Without so much as a word to her, he began to pick out the intro, taking it slow, drawing it out, infusing the notes with plenty of bluesy heat. His fingers, long and tan against the ivory keys, moved with practiced grace. Watching his hands, Genevieve experienced a moment of d?j? vu: this was how she had first seen him, as an itinerant pianist in a smoke-filled bar. Max flicked a look at her. _Distract him._ He spoke under the cover of the music. He was referring to Wagner, she knew: she could feel the other man_s gaze boring into her. Max_s lips barely moved as he said, _You know how. Vamp it up, angel._ Her heart thundered. Her chest felt tight. Max hadn_t called her angel since that never-to-be-forgotten night when she_d found out who and what he really was_and for him to give her an instruction like that, the danger must be more acute even than she feared. The lights went out, except for the chandelier over the piano. She, Max and the piano were effectively spotlighted. It took every bit of self-control she possessed to ignore the tremor that slid down her spine and simply concentrate on the music. Max continued to play. The seductive notes of the intro swirled around her, around the now raptly waiting audience, drawing them in, catching her up. With her innate performer_s sensibility, she knew what they saw: the golden circle of light spilling down over the polished ebony of the grand piano; her, slender and elegant in her gleaming silver gown, her head tilted so that the black silk of her hair hid part of her face as she watched Max_s hands on the keys. Him in his dinner jacket, unsmiling and intensely masculine, his head bent so that a lock of his hair fell over his forehead. The two of them, seated close together on the bench. He hit the segue into the vocal. Supremely conscious of everyone_s eyes on her_of Wagner_s eyes on her_Genevieve detached the microphone with a smoothly practiced movement and kicked up her legs as she turned sideways on the bench so that she was facing the audience. Her skirt fell away, baring slim legs in their sheer nylon stockings to midthigh. She crossed them, arched her back and let her head fall back so that it rested on Max_s shoulder. She could feel the solid strength of it supporting her. _B?same.b?same mucho._ The love song poured out in a silky purr that entwined with Max_s bluesy playing so that the two seemed like parts of the same whole. In honor of the consul general and his wife, the lyrics were in Spanish. Straightening away from Max, she came to her feet and moved behind the bench to trail her fingers across the width of his shoulders as she sang. The smooth wool of his dinner jacket was stretched taut over heavy muscle as he bent over the keys. She then began a slow slink toward the audience. Her voice slid from a purr into a growl as she begged her lover to kiss her like it was the last time they would ever meet. She put every ounce of provocation she could summon into her movements and let the song do the rest. She could feel the electricity in the room, feel the heat her performance was generating, feel the eyes of the audience fastened on her every move. Wagner stood just outside the circle of light, in the shadows at the front of the gathering near the semicircle of chairs. He watched her with frowning concentration, his arms crossed over his chest, his booted feet planted apart. Her skin prickled a warning under the weight of his gaze. There was something in his expression that was not quite right, that made her feel cold all over_what was it? Could he suspect? Was he perhaps thinking about the songbook, realizing that she had carried it into the embassy with her, and considering the possibilities inherent in that? Or could there have been a telltale look or feel to the paper that was even now working its way to the surface of his consciousness? Her heart galloped. Her pulse kept pace. Distract him. Back at the piano, Max steamed up the bridge. Stopping in front of Wagner, Genevieve swayed in time to the music, looked into his eyes, summoned a come-hither smile and sang directly to him. _B?same mucho._ As her voice and body language lent the words a languorous heat, the taut muscles of his face relaxed. His lips stretched into a slow grin as he watched her. Gliding away at last, she felt reassured. He was still watching her, but in a way that she no longer had any trouble interpreting. She finished the song as she had begun it, slinking back to the piano, sinking onto the bench, letting her head drop back onto Max_s broad shoulder as he blazed through the closing notes. When it was done, she came to her feet, as energized as she was frightened now. Moving out in front of the audience, bowing and blowing kisses, she accepted their enthusiastic applause, gesturing at Max to include him in the acclaim. Max looked at her, said something she couldn_t quite hear. She cupped a hand around her ear and leaned toward him in an exaggerated way as he raised his voice to be heard over the clapping that was growing louder rather than dying away. Across the top of the piano he called to her, _One more?_ _What do you think? One more?_ She repeated his question to the room, tilting the microphone toward them to amplify their reply. The roar she received in response had her laughing and retreating to confer with Max, who was, she saw with a stomach-clutch of understanding, rearranging the songbooks on the desk as he sought a new song. Their eyes met in a quick but speaking glance. __Lili Marlene_?_ He tapped the open page in front of him, which was in a different booklet from _B?same mucho._ Sleight of hand with the sheet music_it wasn_t much protection from the murderous arm of the SS, but she was willing to embrace anything that might work. She nodded and turned back to the audience as Max began to pick out the plaintive notes of the intro. Enormously popular after having once been banned from the airwaves by Joseph Goebbels himself for not being militaristic enough, the song was in German. Max_s choice was designed to signal unity with the occupiers and was another way of throwing Wagner off the scent, she knew, but a patriotic kernel lodged deep within her soul swelled in objection. Still, she knew the lyrics, it was a beautiful song and she didn_t want to end up dead or in a concentration camp, so she sang the tale of the woman left behind when her man went off to war in a way that, when she finished, had everyone in the room on their feet clapping wildly. After that it was over. The lights came on. With a flick of her eyes at Max, she picked up her champagne and walked away from the piano to join the group around the consul general and his wife. _You speak German. I am most impressed._ Stopping beside her as she graciously accepted compliments on her performance, Wagner spoke in a voice pitched for her ears alone. _I speak lyrics._ She looked up at him with a smile that belied her fraying nerves. His expression was admiring. She had expected him to follow her, hoped he would follow her: anything to get him away from that songbook. Which didn_t mean she felt comfortable in his presence. The look in his eyes was now all too easy to read: it was carnal, almost predatory, in nature. That kind of sexual aggression made her skin crawl, but she kept her smile in place and did her best to appear warmly interested in what he had to say. Her hand tightened on her flute, but she didn_t follow through on her urge to drink from it. With danger so close at hand, she needed to keep her wits about her, and damn the date. Immediate risk trumped past sorrow. He said, _Spanish ones, as well. But I understand you are French._ _I am._ Shooting a quick glance past him, she saw that Max had left the piano. Was the songbook still there? She couldn_t see the music desk. There was no way to tell. _If we are to speak of languages, your French is very good. I compliment you._ _I_ve made something of a study of languages. I find it_occasionally_very useful._ In his line of work. Genevieve experienced an inner shiver as she made the connection but managed to keep her smile undimmed. _It is good to have you with us again, Herr Obergruppenf?hrer! How long do you stay in Paris this time?_ The consul general_s genial entry into the conversation saved her from having to answer. _My stay is open-ended._ _Until you find who sent the villains who scuttled the barges in the Seine, eh? Don_t worry so much, my friend. The French character is very adaptable. In the end, these small pockets of resistance will amount to nothing._ _That is only one of my reasons for being in Paris._ The sudden glint in Wagner_s eyes warned of his dislike of that line of conversation. Sophie Castellano cast a quick look of reproach at her husband, who hastily changed the subject. _Well, well, you no doubt have much to occupy you. Have you had the pleasure of attending one of Mademoiselle Dumont_s shows? I assure you, they are not to be missed._ _I have had that pleasure. And you are right. They are not to be missed._ Genevieve smiled her thanks. _Paris has much to offer in the way of amusements,_ senora Castellano said, clearly bent on steering the conversation away from controversial subjects. _We feel very fortunate to have been sent here. Tell me, what sights have most impressed you?_ _I_ve seen very few._ _What of our restaurants? I hope you_ve had a chance to sample the best of those._ _I have, but, alas, I find I don_t enjoy dining alone._ He looked at Genevieve. _Indeed, if you could spare the time, Mademoiselle Dumont, I would count myself most honored if you would accompany me to one of my favorite dining establishments some evening soon._ Genevieve continued to smile while her mind worked feverishly. Encouraging Wagner was the last thing she wanted to do, for a host of excellent reasons. But offending him would be a mistake, and under the circumstances embarrassing him in front of their hosts might well prove catastrophic. In five days, she and the troupe would be leaving Paris. Whatever she promised now, she could surely keep him at bay for five days. _It would be my pleasure,_ she said. He beamed. The dimples she_d found so incongruous appeared, lending a sudden flash of boyish charm to a face that was neither boyish nor charming. _Excellent._ He started to say something else, to set a date for their outing, she guessed, but was interrupted by the arrival of a junior officer at his elbow. The young man had his hat tucked under his arm, smelled of the outdoors and wore boots wet with the rain that poured outside, which told Genevieve he had just arrived. His body language made it clear that he had something of importance to impart: he was big with news. _With your permission, Herr Obergruppenf?hrer__ The officer_s voice was low with deference but urgent nonetheless. Wagner looked at her and said _If you will excuse me_ with punctilious courtesy, and stepped aside to listen to what seemed from his darkening expression to be unpleasant tidings. Genevieve_s pulse started to race anew as she watched the exchange. No doubt her guilty knowledge about what was concealed within the songbook was affecting her reactions, but she couldn_t help but worry that whatever the young man was saying had something to do with her and Max. A moment later Wagner returned to her side. _Nothing too terrible, I hope?_ The consul general asked before Genevieve could say anything. He cast a concerned glance at the young officer, who stood waiting at attention a few feet away. _An administrative matter merely._ Wagner_s tone was dismissive, but his eyes were bright with what looked like anger, and a small muscle jumped in his jaw. The dimples that had been on display earlier were nowhere in evidence now. He looked at Genevieve. _Forgive me, but I must go. If I may, I will do myself the pleasure of calling on you very soon._ _I look forward to it._ He bowed with a click of his heels and strode away with the younger officer trotting behind him. _Trouble,_ the consul general said with a knowing look at his wife. _Nothing to talk about while we are having a party,_ she scolded, and turned her attention to Genevieve, who found herself torn between relief and trepidation. She was beyond glad Wagner had gone, but fear that the reason might have something to do with the song booklet made her cold with dread. She cast a slightly desperate glance around for Max: nowhere in sight. _Mademoiselle Dumont, I understand that you are staying at the Hotel Ritz? How are you liking your accommodations there?_ _It_s a very beautiful hotel._ She_d stayed there before, in the summer of 1931 when her parents brought their daughters to Paris to celebrate her sister_s fifteenth birthday. The highlight of that trip had been seeing Josephine Baker, but in retrospect the entire five days had been magical. Her mother had taken the girls shopping along the rue de la Paix, the entire family had climbed the Eiffel Tower to marvel at the view and they_d gone rowing on the Seine. She and her mother had been in one small boat, her sister and father in the other, and the excursion had devolved into a race with her and her sister at the oars. Her sister, older and stronger, had won, which had only slightly marred her enjoyment. Later, looking back, she_d thought of that as the last of the good times, coming as it had just before the terrible economy had overtaken her family along with everyone else and such treats had become a thing of the past. She had found the hotel infinitely more beautiful then than now, and not only because it had not been, as it was currently, packed with Germans. _I am embarrassed to tell you that within its walls I am spoiled with every luxury._ _And so you should be spoiled,_ senora Castellano replied, patting Genevieve_s arm in a motherly way. _Your voice brings light to our lives in these dark times. Come, let me introduce you to more of my friends._ Chapter Seven _Ready to go?_ Max asked when he caught up with her some time later, as she emerged from the powder room. How much time later Genevieve couldn_t really say. Call it two glasses of champagne later. She was feeling much better, more relaxed, almost calm. She credited that to the fact that Wagner was still gone and she hadn_t been arrested. Oh, and the champagne. She smiled at Max, strictly for the sake of anyone watching. His eyes narrowed at her. They were, she noted with a critical look at them, actually more hazel than brown, with a hint of green in their depths. He looked more closely at her. _Is something wrong?_ Realizing that she_d been staring, her brows snapped together. _Where have you been?_ _Around. Come on, let_s get our coats._ _I have to say goodbye to our hosts first._ She started walking toward the closest of the crowded reception rooms, where she had last seen the consul general and his wife. Max caught her elbow. _Probably better not._ They reached the foyer, and Max asked the servant on duty for their coats. _Mademoiselle Dumont and Monsieur_Bonet?_ the man asked, and when Max replied in the affirmative, he went away. _But I haven_t said goodbye to anyone,_ Genevieve protested. She made an effort to head for the reception rooms but Max retained his hold on her arm, preventing her. _I said goodbye for both of us. Anyway, you don_t want to be here when our good friend gets back, do you?_ Genevieve stopped trying to pull away and stood still, frowning. She knew who he was talking

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