London, Present day
Hélène examined the photo carefully, moving the lens steadily over the print the same way she’d done when she’d first learned to hunt for underground German bunkers. The wood paneling of the private club in Mayfair was centuries old and solid enough to dim any midsummer evening noise.
Someone swallowed hard behind her and was admonished with an elbow, making him grunt.
The photographer had shot from an elevated vantage point and an awkward angle, creating a picture more artistic than logical. Still, some things could be gleaned.
Late 1920’s America, somewhere that understood high fashion – New Orleans, perhaps? A festive street scene, probably Mardi Gras, given the masks and costumes. Most of the faces in the crowd were turned away from the camera or out of focus, making them unidentifiable.
A man came into focus and she recognized him immediately – Rodrigo Perez, a very polite fellow when she’d met him at Versailles two centuries ago though he could also be obnoxiously arrogant. He was poised on the balls of his feet, his shoulders tense. She could almost feel his eyes moving left and right, hunting for the hidden photographer.
She sniffed, silently cheering the fellow’s success, and moved on.
Another face slid into focus beyond her hat’s bizarre shadow.
She froze, her hand clenching the jeweler’s loupe until her knuckles turned white.
A woman, the image of her mother. Family. After all these centuries, she was not alone.
Tears sprang into her eyes, and she blinked them back fiercely. Not here, not in this audience, would she show weakness.
Besides, how much had her masters known all these years – and chosen to keep from her? Nom de Dieu, she would have answers from them and, this time, she would not be polite about how she asked her questions.
Lord Simon set a snifter down beside her, and she gulped the fine cognac with scant regard for its high cost. Mon Dieu, if la petite was alive, answers must be demanded.
She shifted the loupe slightly to give herself time to think, ignoring Lord Simon’s watchful bodyguards around her.
A man’s face sprang out at her. Jean-Marie St. Just?
Her heart slammed to a stop, harder and faster than any time she’d fallen into hibernation as a vampira.
She almost knocked the lamp off the table before she could control herself.
Alive, alive, alive. . . Joy fizzed through her veins faster than any champagne.
Her heart began to beat again, echoing her determination to find him, and her fingertips instinctively ached, desperate to caress his mobile mouth. If he’d lived long enough to be recorded in this picture, surely God would not be so cruel as to separate them again.
Excerpt from Bond of Fire by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2008 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved