Welcome to the first of ten excerpts from BOND OF FIRE.
The first four excerpts introduce the major characters. Although these excerpts are set in Marie Antoinette’s France, most of the book takes place in present-day Texas. (Remember the blurb’s second sentence? Yes, Jean-Marie and Hélène have had an exciting history together.) The fifth excerpt jumps to present-day Texas where the deciding conflict begins.
To reread the Prologue, click here.
And now for the first excerpt!
Hope you enjoy it -
Part I: Revolution
Versailles, Paris, February 1787
Thomas Jefferson, ambassador of the young American republic, led Jean-Marie St. Just and Rodrigo Perez down the long hallways, Sara Perez radiant on his arm. Candlelight blazed from hundreds of candles, magnified and scattered through mirror after mirror, only to shine like freedom’s torch on his red hair. The quartet cut through the throng like masters of their own fates, wearing their peacock attire as if it were no more than a diversion or camouflage – not a grab for attention or a naked declaration of unassailable power.
Chattering courtiers, sweating under their paint and powder, as gaudy in their brilliant silks as parakeets, circled and glided inside the palace’s spectacular cage. Predators, barbed glances flashing like knives, stalked their prey.
The king and queen of France were displayed on gilded chairs in an alcove, arrayed in their finest clothes and surrounded by fawning, over-bred lackeys. The corpulent, unhappy excuse for kingly omnipotence looked like a peasant forced to sit on the throne. If there was any hope for the next generation’s intelligence or energy, it came from the Austrian queen, whose flashing eyes captured every detail. Marie Antoinette displayed her legendary sense of style by wearing a costly, amber silk dress, which turned everyone and everything else here into a backdrop for her glory.
Louis XVI looked the newcomers over coolly, obviously wishing to be anywhere else. His royal hand waggled in a languid sign of recognition.
Jean-Marie retained his impeccably pleased demeanor, despite the dirk in his heavily embroidered silk sleeve and the overwhelming urge to retch. After all, how many times had he been caned in this very palace for promoting republican ideals, rather than the divine right of kings?
Whatever else Father had been, he’d rarely been openly rude without a good reason. If he’d lived to see his great-great-grandson sit on the throne of France, there would have been hell to pay in the royal nurseries decades ago.
But that had nothing to do with tonight’s visit.
Jean-Marie let his expression slide further into open sycophancy, masking his opinion of his many-times-removed nephew and his body’s unease. His mouth tasted of smoke and ashes, and a demon was drilling spikes into both temples. It was hardly the first time these agonies had attacked him at Versailles.
Jefferson nodded formally, stopping just short of a bow. “Your Majesties, may I present Don Rodrigo Perez, one of General Washington’s most trusted advisors?”
And spymaster, come here to personally verify for Washington that France was not an immediate threat.
Rodrigo bowed low and very smoothly, as befitted a man who’d mastered the skill while wearing eighty pounds of chain mail, sword, shield, and other knightly accoutrements.
“And Mister Jean-Marie St. Just, whose gallantry in action has been recognized by both General Washington and your own Marquis de la Fayette?”
Jefferson’s Virginia drawl managed Jean-Marie’s name quite well, including the tricky detail of pronouncing the J’s like the s in “measure.”
Jean-Marie’s bow matched Rodrigo’s in depth, although he automatically added all the flourishes appropriate to greeting a king. They were taught to every member of the royal brood, legitimate or not. No matter how many decades had passed since he’d been here, some things were never forgotten, even when the skill could cause comment.
“And Señorita Perez, Don Rodrigo’s sister.” Jefferson’s Virginia drawl lingered over every syllable, caressing her name.
Sara sank into a deep curtsy. While she was not blood kin to Rodrigo, they’d endured long years of hard trials together, forging a bond closer than many brothers and sisters. Her eyes were shining now, and her color was very high, causing an almost audible groan of desire from their watchers. Even the king’s eyes widened, despite his notorious disinterest in carnal congress.
Instinctively, Jean-Marie’s fingers flexed, and he started to edge forward, moving to protect her.
Rodrigo’s foot tapped his, once, briefly.
Jean-Marie stilled. The other man was as tense as he was, perhaps more so. But he was willing to allow Sara’s eagerness to shine like a diamond amid the jaded courtiers. Her hunger was, after all, the official reason they’d come to Paris.
Jean-Marie relaxed slightly, resuming his original sycophant’s posture. He would wait and watch, as Rodrigo did. If any of these fools lifted so much as a finger against her, they’d wish they were dead. There was no need to do anything more now.
She rose, sending her taffeta skirts sighing back into place like an houri’s invitation to paradise. She cast her eyes down, teasing those around with a come-hither look that seemed meant for each one alone. Meaningful glances were exchanged, laden with coded messages.
By Jean-Marie’s reckoning, she’d guaranteed at least one assignation before the courtiers remembered to watch their monarch again.
He clenched his teeth, refusing to react to another stomach-churning wave of dizziness.
The king yawned, having lost interest in Sara, and waved the newcomers away impatiently. “Yes, yes, I know. Come back again with whatever you wish to say, Jefferson. And these three are welcome to Us, too. Now go.”
They hadn’t gone more than two steps away from the king and queen before a fresh-faced young man, with a weak chin and slender build, asked Sara to join an innocent card game.
“Ooh, certainly, Monsieur Simenon, is it not?” she cooed, her middle-aged face softening with delight. “It would be a pleasure to spend time at play with you. You’ll excuse me, Don Rodrigo, Mr. Jefferson.”
The men murmured their regret and bowed, hemmed in on all sides by the throng of courtiers.
Sara departed, her hand resting on her new acquaintance’s and her head tilted attentively up to his. He was already chatting to her, of course, and would almost certainly be in her bed before the night was out. He’d probably consider himself lucky, although she’d likely drop him within a week or so – once she had an eye to where the king’s spymaster might be found. She loved having a focus for the game of seduction, and it had saved them all more than once.
With Sara gone, there was little to keep Jefferson around, and he soon disappeared with a few polite words of farewell. He’d visit them again, of course, to exchange more conversation about French intentions toward America – and to indulge his fascination with Sara.
Courtiers rustled, eager to advance on their monarchs. By unspoken agreement, Rodrigo and Jean-Marie moved to the next room, seeking fresher air. They found a comparatively cooler space in a window embrasure, Rodrigo’s imposing height and formidable presence chasing off its previous occupants.
Jean-Marie claimed a pair of glasses from a passing lackey’s tray and handed one to Rodrigo. He sipped it cautiously – and the champagne’s cool refreshment eased his throat a bit. Before he could stop himself, he’d gulped the rest, sending bubbles jolting into his stomach.
Merde, that was stupid. This was not the time or the place to display any weakness.
His head came up warily, and he scanned for watchers. Nobody tossed back champagne like water, especially at court. Growing up in these halls had taught him to guard every move, every glance, every word at all times.
Rodrigo silently exchanged glasses, providing him with another round. Droplets of red swirled and dissipated within the champagne, changing it to a pale pink.
Jean-Marie stilled and directed a suspicious glare at his friend’s hand.
Rodrigo casually rubbed his thumb over his fingertip, erasing the few traces of blood.
“You do not need to guard me from every disaster, mon frère,” Jean-Marie snapped, well aware starvation was turning him foul-tempered.
“You should have let her feed you this morning, as she asked.” A big shoulder lifted in a shrug. “I do not have so many friends that I find myself able to face the loss of even one with equanimity.”
“I do not need it,” Jean-Marie all but snarled.
“Your stubbornness makes a donkey look as flexible as a papal diplomat, mi hermano. Bend your pride enough to take extra blood for greater needs, such as tonight,” Rodrigo hissed, stepping close enough to block the view of onlookers. Only another vampiro or a compañero like Jean-Marie, whose body had been altered by decades of drinking vampiro blood, could have heard him. “You’ll have to make do with mine for a few hours, until she can feed you again.”
Despite the rational explanation, Jean-Marie gritted his teeth, loathing yet another example of his enslavement.
Rodrigo’s iron grip closed around his wrist under his cuff and tightened until Jean-Marie could feel tendons start to grind against bone. “It has been weeks since you fed. Even at that, you need more than blood.”
“I swore I wouldn’t take more from her when I learned the truth of what she’d done.” Jean-Marie shot him a barbed glance.
Rodrigo snorted in disgust. “In that case, let the wine cool you and your temper for a few moments.”
Jean-Marie seethed but nodded acquiescence, knowing all too well the truth in Rodrigo’s words. He’d nearly died a dozen times in Washington’s army – never because of wounds or disease but rather, because he’d been separated from Sara, the mistress who held him literally in thrall.
If he went another day like this, he’d barely be able to speak. Three days, and he wouldn’t be able to walk. A week longer – eh bien, that was as long as he’d ever been able to force himself to live without a taste of Sara. Much more than that and he’d die – very painfully.
He drank the second glass more slowly, letting the bubbles break against his tongue before diving down his throat.
A slow, rich warmth crept into his torso. His dizziness faded into the background, followed by his bitter headache. His roiling stomach settled back into position. The aches still lingered at the edge of his consciousness, like unwelcome houseguests. But he’d be able to function normally for a few hours more until he could claim Sara’s blood.
Excerpt from Bond of Fire by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2008 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved