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  • Written by Iris Johansen
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  • Written by Iris Johansen
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Written by Iris JohansenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Iris Johansen

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On Sale: December 29, 2010
Pages: 560 | ISBN: 978-0-307-76800-1
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A twisted psychopath...a trail of violence...and a man and woman who will risk everything to stop him...

Jean Marc Andreas wanted what was his by right. He was seeking justice—and he would use any means to get it. Juliette de Clement, a confidante of the royal family, could aid his search for the priceless treasure so many had killed to possess...and died to protect. But in eighteenth-century revolutionary France, a world of power and intrigue, soldiers and assassins, royalty and rebels, death could come in many forms and from any direction, and none more lethal—or more likely—than from the person you trusted most.

Still, Jean and Juliette had no choice but to trust each other, because their very lives depended on it. Someone else was determined to have the Wind Dancer statue—and the legacy of power it bestowed. Someone whose twisted genius for evil was already wreaking a path of unspeakable violence that only together they could stop...even as they stood to be its next victims.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Versailles, France
July 25, 1779


The emerald eyes of the golden horse looked down at her, as if he knew her every hope, her every sorrow, Juliette thought. Lips parted in a smile of fierce joy, filigree wings folded back against his body, the Pegasus stood on a tall marble pedestal in the gallery, deserted now. Juliette could hear the tinkling music of a clavichord and women singing, but she paid no attention to anything except the beautiful golden horse.

She had caught glimpses of herself in the seventeen mirrors gracing the long gallery as she'd dashed moments ago to the sheltering presence of the Pegasus. How helpless and stupid she looked with tears running down her face, she thought.

She hated to cry as much as she hated to feel helpless. Marguerite, her nurse, liked to see her cry, Juliette had realized recently. When the old woman goaded and tormented until she succeeded in making her break down and weep, she seemed to Juliette to puff up with satisfaction as if those childish tears somehow watered and nourished her. Someday, Juliette vowed, when she was a woman grown like her mother and Marguerite, she would never let anyone see her this helpless or frightened.

She ducked behind the tall pedestal, gathering her nightgown close to her shivering body and crouched on the floor, trying to hide in the shadows. Her breath coming in harsh sobs, she cradled a precious brown clay pot against her chest. She prayed Marguerite wouldn't find her and soon would stop searching. Then she would run into the garden and find a safe hiding place for the pot in the vast beds of flowers.

She could see only a narrow slice of the long hall glittering with mirrors, the candles shimmering starlike in crystal chandeliers. Juliette had eluded Marguerite in the corridors below, but an army of footmen and at least three Swiss guards would be able to set her nurse on the right path if she stopped to inquire. She peeped cautiously around the pedestal and sighed with relief.

No Marguerite.

"I tell you I did see something, Axel." A woman's light voice, very close, faintly impatient. "I looked up from the clavichord and I saw . . . I don't know . . . something."

Juliette tensed, pressing back against the wall and holding her breath.

"I would not think of arguing with you." A man's amused voice. "I'm sure those blue eyes are as keen as they are beautiful. Perhaps it was a servant."

"No, it was much closer to the floor."

"A pup? God knows your court seems to abound with them and none of them worth a franc in the hunting field."

A pair of white satin shoes, diamond buckles gleaming in the candlelight, appeared in Juliette's line of vision. Her gaze traveled from the gleaming buckles to the hem of enormously wide azure satin skirts decorated with square-cut sapphires set in circlets of violets.

"It was just a glimpse, but I know— Well, what have we here?"

Sparkling blue eyes peered down into the shadows at her. The lady knelt in a flurry of satin skirts. "Here's your puppy, Axel. It's a child."

Wild despair tore through Juliette. It was clear she had been found by a lady of the court. The rich gown and stylish white wig were so like her mother's. This woman would be bound to find her mother, Juliette thought desperately. She braced herself, the muscles of her calves tensing to spring, her hands clutching the clay pot so tightly her knuckles turned white.

"A very small child." The lady reached forward and gently touched Juliette's wet cheek. "What are you doing here, ma petite? It's almost midnight and little girls should be in bed."

Juliette drew back, huddling against the wall.

"Don't be frightened." The lady drew closer. "I have a little girl too. My Marie ThŽrse is only a year old, but later perhaps you and she could play together when . . ." The words trailed off as the lady looked down at her damp fingertips that had caressed Juliette's cheek. "Mother of God, there's blood on my fingers, Axel. The child's hurt. Give me your handkerchief."

"Bring her out and let's have a look at her." The man came into view, tall, handsomely dressed in a brilliant emerald-green coat. He handed the lady a spotless lace-trimmed handkerchief and knelt beside her.

"Come out, ma petite." The lady held out her arms to Juliette. "No one is going to hurt you."

Hurt? Juliette didn't care about the pain. She was used to pain and it was nothing compared to the disaster facing her now.

"What's your name?" The lady's hand gently pushed back the riotous dark curls from Juliette's forehead. The touch was so tender Juliette wanted to lean into it.

"Juliette," she whispered."A pretty name for a pretty little girl."

"I'm not pretty."

"No?"

"My nose turns up and my mouth is too big."

"Well, I think you're pretty. You have exquisite skin and lovely brown eyes. You are such a big girl, Juliette."

"Almost seven."

"A great age." The lady dabbed at Juliette's lip with the handkerchief. "Your lip is bleeding. Did someone hurt you?"

Juliette looked away. "No, I fell against the door."

"What door?"

"I . . . don't remember." Juliette had learned a long time before that all bruises and cuts must be explained away in this fashion. Why was the lady so interested in her? In Juliette's experience, adults accepted any untruth that made them most comfortable.

"Never mind." The lady held out her arms again. "Won't you come out from behind the Wind Dancer and let me hold you? I like children. Nothing will happen to you, I promise."

The lady's arms were as white and plump and well-formed as those on the statues of the goddesses in the garden, although they were not as beautiful as the golden wings of the Pegasus, Juliette thought. Suddenly, though, she was drawn to those open arms as she had been drawn to the statue the lady had called the Wind Dancer.

She inched out of the shadows.

"That's right." The lady drew Juliette into her embrace. The scent of violets, roses, and perfumed powder surrounded Juliette. Her mother sometimes smelled of violets, Juliette thought wistfully. If she closed her eyes, perhaps she could pretend this lady holding her with such tenderness was her mother. She would run away soon but it would do no harm to stay for just another moment.

"What a sweet, shy child you are."

Juliette knew she was not a sweet child. Marguerite always called her an obstinate spawn of the devil. The lady would find out her mistake soon enough and push Juliette away. If her own mother considered her too wicked to be pleasing, she would not be able to deceive a stranger for any length of time.

A mirrored door next to the statue was thrown open, and a burst of laughter and music entered the gallery along with a woman.

"Your Majesty, we miss your lovely voice in our harmonies."

Her mother!

Juliette stiffened and burrowed her head in the lady's powdered shoulder.

"In a moment, Celeste. We have a small problem here."

"May I help? What pro—Juliette!"

"You know this child?" The lady stood up, still holding Juliette by the hand. "It seems she's in great distress."

"Juliette is my daughter." Celeste de Clement came forward, her exquisitely shaped mouth tight with displeasure. "Forgive her, Your Majesty, she's not usually so naughty and uncontrolled. I'll send for her nurse who must be searching the palace for her."

"I'll go, Your Majesty." The handsome man rose to his feet, smiled, bowed. "It's my pleasure to serve you." He paused. "Always."

"Thank you, Count Fersen." A faint smile on her lips, the lady's gaze followed him as he turned and strode down the hall. When he vanished from sight she looked again at Juliette. "I think we must find out why she's so unhappy, Celeste. Why were you hiding, child?

"Your Majesty. This lady was the queen? Juliette swallowed. "Marguerite said she was going to take away my paints."

Marie Antoinette looked down at her. "Paints?"

Juliette held out her clay pot. "I have to have my paints. She cannot take them away." Tears of helplessness and anger began to well in her eyes again. "I won't let her do it. I'll run away and hide them where she'll never find them."

"Hush." Her mother's voice was harsh. "Have you not shamed me enough with your behavior?" She turned to the queen. "My father gave her an artist's brush and that pot of red paint when we visited him in Andorra and the child does nothing but cover every scrap of parchment in our apartments with her daubs. I told Marguerite to take them away from her so she wouldn't disfigure your beautiful walls."

"I'd never do that." Juliette looked pleadingly at Marie Antoinette. "I want to paint splendid pictures. I wouldn't waste my paint on your walls."

Marie Antoinette burst into laughter. "That relieves me exceedingly."

"She's done nothing but wander about the palace, gazing at the paintings and sculptures, since we arrived here at Versailles a fortnight ago." A veil of tears turned Celeste's blue-violet eyes moistly brilliant. "I know she's unruly, but since my dear Henri was taken from me I fear I've neglected her supervision. It's not easy being a woman alone in the world."

The queen's expression softened as she looked at Celeste. "I, too, am a woman who knows the trials of being a mother." She reached out and took Celeste's hand in both her own and raised it to her cheek. "We'll have to endeavor to make things easier for you, my dear Celeste."

"Your Majesty is too kind." Celeste smiled sweetly through her tears. "Indeed, it's enough reward to be allowed to be close to you. After all, I'm not even of French birth. I'd heard Spaniards were not popular at Versailles, and I never imagined when I came to court that the honor of being near you would be accorded me."

How did her mother manage to keep the tears misting her eyes? Why did they not spill over and run down her cheeks? Juliette had noticed this many times before and it baffled her."

I was a foreigner also when I came here as a bride from Austria. Both you and I became French when we married." Marie Antoinette pressed an affectionate kiss on Celeste's palm. "It is but one more bond between us. Our court is infinitely richer for your enchanting presence, Celeste. We would have been devastated if you'd chosen to stay in that horrid Ch‰teau in Normandy."

The two women exchanged a glance of intimate understanding before the queen reluctantly released Celeste's hand."

And now I think we must do something to dry your daughter's tears." She dropped to her knees again, grasped Juliette's shoulders, staring at her with mock sternness. "I do think such a passionate love for beauty should be rewarded, but your mother is right. A paintbrush should be allowed in the hand of a child only under a careful eye. I shall have my friend, Elizabeth VigŽe Le Brun, give you lessons. She's a splendid artist and very kind as well."

Juliette gazed at the queen in disbelief. "I may keep my paint?"

"Well, you could hardly create pictures without it. I'll send you more paints and canvases and I'm sure someday you shall paint many splendid treasures for me." The queen ruffled Juliette's curls. "But you must meet one condition."

Disappointment made Juliette almost ill. it wasn't going to happen. She should have known the queen was toying with her. Grown-ups seldom told the truth to children. Why should this lady be any different?

"Don't look so tragic." Marie Antoinette chuckled. "I ask only that you promise to be my friend."

Juliette went still. "Your . . . friend?"

"Is that so impossible a task?"

"No!" Her heart was pounding so hard she could scarcely breathe. Paints, canvas, a friend. It was too much. For a brief moment she felt as if she were soaring up to the high-arched ceiling. Quickly she hurtled back to earth. "You probably won't want to be my friend for long."

"Why not?""I say things people don't like."

"Why do you say things people don't like when you know they'll be upset with you?"

"Because it's stupid to tell lies." Juliette met the queen's gaze, and her voice held desperation as she continued. "But I'll try to be whatever you want me to be. I'll be so good, I promise."

"Shh, I have no desire for anything but your honesty." The queen's voice was suddenly weary. "There's little enough of that commodity in Versailles."

"Ah, here's Marguerite." Celeste's voice sounded relieved. But Juliette winced at the sight of the tall, black-gowned figure of Marguerite Duclos, escorted by the handsome man the queen had called Axel.

Celeste took Juliette's hand. "My dear child must be put to bed. I'm sure your kindness has excited her until it will be impossible for her to sleep. I shall return as quickly as possible, Your Majesty."

"Do hurry." Marie Antoinette patted Juliette's cheek but her gaze was already fixed dreamily on Axel. "I think we shall play a game of backgammon before we retire."

"An excellent idea." Celeste pulled Juliette the few paces to where Marguerite waited at a respectful distance from the queen.

Her mother was still angry, Juliette realized. Yet she was so full of joy, she could not worry. Paints, canvas, and a friend!

"You incompetent fool," Celeste whispered to Marguerite as she released Juliette into the nurse's custody. "If you cannot raise my daughter to display some semblance of meekness and decorum, I shall send you back to Andorra and find someone who can do so."

Marguerite's thin, sallow face flushed in distress. "I do my best. She's not the sweet girl you were as a child," she mumbled. "It was those paints. She was like a wild thing when I tried to take them away from her."

"Well, now you must let her keep them until the queen loses interest in her. If you'd done your duty well, I would not have been put to this embarrassment."

"The queen didn't appear angry. I could not—"

"I want no excuses. Punish the child," Celeste ordered as she whirled on her heel in a fury of violet brocade. "And keep her away from the queen. It's fortunate Count Fersen was here tonight to put Her Majesty in a felicitous mood. I'll not have Juliette with her bold ways spoil my chances of becoming the queen's favorite. I have enough to contend with. That mewling Princess de Lambelle preys on the queen's sympathy at every turn." She paused, glaring at Juliette. "You're staring at me again. Why do you always stare at me?"

Juliette averted her gaze. She had displeased her mother again. Usually that knowledge brought an aching sense of loss, but tonight the hurt was less. The queen had not found Juliette either ugly or displeasing.

A brilliant smile lit Celeste's exquisite face as she swept back down the hall toward the queen. "All is well, Your Majesty. How can I thank you for making my little girl so happy?"

Marguerite propelled Juliette forward, her clasp cruelly tight. "Are you satisfied now, you imp from hell? Making your sweet mother unhappy and disturbing the queen of France."

"I didn't disturb her. She liked me. She's my friend."

"She's not your friend. She's the queen."

Juliette was silent, still in a warm, cozy haze of delight. No matter what Marguerite said, the queen was her friend. Hadn't she held Juliette in her arms and dried her tears? Hadn't she said she was pretty and sweet? Wasn't she going to have her taught to paint beautiful pictures?

"And do you think your mother will really let you have those nasty paints after you've been so naughty?" Marguerite's lips tightened until they formed a thin line. "You don't deserve gifts."

"She'll let me have the paints whether I deserve them or not. She won't want to displease the queen." Juliette gave a hop and skip to keep up with Marguerite's long stride as they moved quickly down the Hall of Mirrors. Juliette's fascinated gaze clung to their images moving from one of the seventeen mirrors to the next as they walked along the gleaming hall. It surprised her to see how small and unimportant she looked. She certainly did not feel small inside now. She felt every bit as big and important as her mother and Marguerite. How unfair that the mirror did not reflect the change. Marguerite looked much more interesting, Juliette decided. Her black-gowned body was lean and angled like one of the stone gargoyles Juliette had seen on a column of the grand cathedral of Notre Dame. How fortunate she had felt when her mother had instructed the coachman to detour to the cathedral on his way through Paris to Versailles. Perhaps, she could persuade Madame VigŽe Le Brun to show her how to paint Marguerite as a gargoyle.

"Your arms are going to be black and blue for a fortnight," Marguerite muttered with satisfaction. "I'll show you that you can't shame me in front of your mother."

Juliette looked down at the long, strong fingers of Marguerite's hand holding her own and felt an instant of fear. She drew a deep breath and quickly suppressed the terror before it overcame her. The pain of the pinching would be over quickly, and all the time she was undergoing it she would be thinking of her paints and canvas and the lessons to come.

But in her very first painting she would most definitely paint Marguerite as a gargoyle.



Ile du Lion, France
June 10, 1787

Jean Marc Andreas strode around the pedestal, studying the statue from every angle. The jewel-encrusted Pegasus was superb.

From its flying mane to the exquisite detail of the gold filigree clouds on which the horse danced, it was a masterful piece of work.

"You've done well, Desedero," Andreas said. "It's perfect."

The sculptor whom some called a mere goldsmith shook his head. "You're wrong, Monsieur. I've failed."

"Nonsense. This copy is identical to the Wind Dancer, is it not?"

"It is as close a copy as could be made, even to the peculiar cut of the facets of the jewels," Desedero said. "I had to journey to India to locate emeralds large and perfect enough to use as the eyes of the Wind Dancer and spent over a year crafting the body of the statue."

"And the inscription engraved on the base?"

Desedero shrugged. "I reproduced the markings with great precision, but since the script is indecipherable that is a minor point, I believe."

"Nothing is minor. My father knows the Wind Dancer in its every detail," Andreas said dryly. "I paid you four million livres to duplicate the Wind Dancer—and I always get my money's worth."

Desedero knew those words to be true. Jean Marc Andreas was a young man, no more than twenty and five, but he had established himself as a formidable force in the world of finance since taking over the reins of the Andreas shipping and banking empire three years before from his ailing father. He was reputed to be both brilliant and ruthless. Desedero had found him exceptionally demanding, yet he did not resent Andreas. Perhaps it was because the young man's commission challenged the artist in him. Certainly Andreas's desperation to please his father was touching. Desedero had loved his own father very much and understood such deep and profound affection. He was much impressed by Jean Marc Andreas's wholehearted zeal for replicating the Wind Dancer to please his ill and aging father.

"I regret to say I do not believe you have gotten your money's worth this time, Monsieur Andreas."

"Don't say such a thing, sir." A muscle jerked in Andreas's jaw. "You have succeeded. We've succeeded. My father will never know the difference between this Wind Dancer and the one at Versailles."

Desedero shook his head. "Tell me, have you ever seen the real Wind Dancer?"

"No, I've never visited Versailles."

Desedero's gaze returned to the statue on the pedestal. "I remember vividly the first time I saw it some forty-two years ago. I was only a lad of ten and my father took me to Versailles to see the treasures that were dazzling the world. I saw the Hall of Mirrors." He paused. "And I saw the Wind Dancer. What an experience. When you walked into my studio some year and a half ago with your offer of a commission to create a copy of the Wind Dancer, I could not pass it by. To replicate the Wind Dancer would have been sublime."

"And you've done it."

"You don't understand. Had you ever seen the original, you would know the difference instantly. The Wind Dancer has . . ." He searched for a word. "Presence. One cannot look away from it. It captures, it holds"—he smiled crookedly—"as it's held me for these forty-two years."

"And my father," Andreas whispered. "He saw it once as a young man and has wanted it ever since." He turned away. "And by God, he'll have it. She took everything from him—but he shall have the Wind Dancer."

Desedero discreetly ignored the last remark, though he was well aware of the lady to whom Andreas referred. Charlotte, Denis Andreas's wife, Jean Marc's stepmother, had been dead over five years. Still the stories of her greed and treachery were much passed about.

Sighing, Desedero shook his head. "You have only a copy of the Wind Dancer to give to your father."

"There's no difference." A hint of desperation colored Andreas's voice. "My father will never see the two statues side by side. He'll think he has the Wind Dancer until the day he—" He broke off, his lips suddenly pinched.

"Your father is worse?" Desedero asked gently.

"Yes, the physicians think he has no more than six months to live. He's begun to cough blood." He tried to smile. "So it's fortunate you have finished the statue and could bring it now to the Ilde du Lion. Yes?"

Desedero had an impulse to reach out and touch him in comfort, but he knew Andreas was not a man who could accept such a gesture, so he merely said, "Very fortunate."

"Sit down." Andreas picked up the statue and started toward the door of the salon. "I'll take this to my father in his study. That's where he keeps all the things he treasures most. Then I'll return and tell you how wrong you were about your work."

"I hope I'm wrong," Desedero said with a shrug. "Perhaps only the eye of an artist can perceive the difference." He sat down in the straight chair his patron had indicated and stretched out his short legs. "Don't hurry, Monsieur. You have many beautiful objects here for me to study. Is that a Botticelli on the far wall?"

"Yes. My father purchased it several years ago. He much admires the Italian masters." Andreas moved toward the door, carefully cradling the statue in his arms. "I'll send a servant with wine, Signor Desedero."

The door closed behind him and Desedero leaned back in his chair, gazing blindly at the Botticelli. Perhaps the old man was too ill to detect the fraud being thrust upon him. Whole and well, he would have seen it instantly, Desedero realized, because everything in this house revealed Denis Andreas's exquisite sensitivity and love of beauty. Such a man would have been as helplessly entranced with the Wind Dancer as Desedero always had been. Sometimes his own memories of his first visit to Versailles were bathed in mist from which only the Wind Dancer emerged clearly.

He hoped for Jean Marc Andreas's sake that his father's memories had dimmed along with his sight.



Jean Marc opened the door of the library, and beauty and serenity flowed over him. This room was both haven and treasure house for his father. A fine Savonnerie carpet in delicate shades of rose, ivory, and beige stretched across the highly polished parquet floor, and a Gobelin tapestry depicting the four seasons covered one wall. Splendid furniture crafted by Jacobs and Boulard was placed for beauty—and comfort—in the room. A fragile crystal swan rested on a cupboard of rosewood and Chinese lacquer marquetry. The desk, wrought in mahogany, ebony, and gilded bronze with mother-of-pearl inserts, might have been the focal point of the room if it had not been for the portrait of Charlotte Andreas. It was dramatically framed and placed over a fireplace whose mantel of Pyrenees marble drew the eye.

Denis Andreas always complained of the cold these days and, although it was the end of June, a fire burned in the hearth. He sat in a huge crimson brocade-cushioned armchair, reading before the fire, his slippered feet resting on a matching footstool.

Jean Marc braced himself, then stepped into the room and closed the door. "I've brought you a gift."

His father looked up with a smile that froze on his lips as he looked at the statue in Jean Marc's arms. "I see you have."

Jean Marc strode over to the table beside his father's chair and set the statue carefully on the malachite surface. He could feel tension coiling painfully in his every muscle as his father gazed at the Pegasus. He forced a smile. "Well, do say something, sir. Aren't you pleased with me? It was far from easy to persuade King Louis to part with the statue. Bardot had virtually lived at court this past year waiting for the opportunity to pounce."

"You must have paid a good deal for it." Denis Andreas reached out and touched a filigree wing with a gentle finger.

His father's hands had always been delicate-looking, the hands of an artist, Jean Marc thought. But now they were nearly transparent, the protruding veins poignantly emphasizing their frailty. He quickly looked from those scrawny hands to his father's face. His face was also thin, the cheeks hollowed, but his eyes still held the gentleness and wonder they always had.

"I paid no more than we could afford." Jean Marc sat down on the chair across from his father. "And Louis needed the livres to pay the American war debt." At least, that was true enough. Louis's aid to the American revolutionaries along with his other extravagant expenditures had set France tottering on the edge of bankruptcy. "Where should we put it? I thought a white Carrara marble pedestal by the window. The sunlight shining on the gold and emeralds would make it come alive."

"The Wind Dancer is alive," his father said gently. "All beauty lives, Jean Marc."

"By the window then?"

"No."

"Where?"

His father's gaze shifted to Jean Marc's face. "You didn't have to do this." He smiled. "But it fills me with joy that you did."

"What's a few millions livres?" Jean Marc asked lightly. "You wanted it."

"No, I have it." Denis Andreas tapped the center of his forehead with his index finger. "Here. I didn't need this splendid imitation, my son."Jean Marc went still. "Imitation?"

His father looked again at the statue. "A glorious imitation. Who did it? Balzar?"

Jean Marc was silent a moment before he said hoarsely, "Desedero."

"Ah, a magnificent sculptor when working in gold. I'm surprised he accepted the commission."

Frustration and despair rose in Jean Marc until he could scarcely bear it. "He was afraid you would recognize the difference but I felt I had no choice. I offered the king enough to buy a thousand statues, but Bardot reported that Louis wouldn't consider selling the Wind Dancer at any price. According to His Majesty, the queen has a particular fondness for it." His hands closed tightly on the arms of the chair. "But, dammit, it's the same."

Denis Andreas shook his head. "It's a very good copy. But, my son, the Wind Dancer is . . ." He shrugged. "I think it has a soul."

"Mother of God, it's only a statue!"

"I can't explain. The Wind Dancer has seen so many centuries pass, seen so many members of our family born into the world, live out their lives . . . and die. Perhaps it has come to be much more than an object, Jean Marc. Perhaps it has become . . . a dream."

"I failed you."

"No." His father shook his head. "It was a splendid gesture, a loving gesture."

"I failed you. It hurt me to know you couldn't have the one thing you so wished—" Jean Marc broke off and attempted to steady his voice. "I wanted to give something to you, something that you'd always wanted."

"You have given me something. Don't you see?"

"I've given you disappointment and chicanery and God knows you've had enough of both in your life." Denis flinched and Jean Marc's lips twisted. "You see, even I hurt you."

"You've always demanded too much of yourself. You've been a good and loyal son." He looked Jean Marc in the eye. "And I've had a good life. I've been fortunate enough to have the means to surround myself with treasures, and I have a son who loves me enough to try to deceive me ever so sweetly." He nodded at the statue. "And now why don't you take that lovely thing out to the salon and find a place to show it to advantage?"

"You don't want it in here?"

Denis slowly shook his head. "Looking at it would disturb the fine and fragile fabric of the dream." His gaze drifted to the portrait of Charlotte Andreas over the fireplace. "You never understood why I did it, did you? You never understood about dreams."

Looking intently at his father, Jean Marc felt pain and sorrow roll over him in a relentless tide. "No, I suppose I didn't."

"That hurt you. It shouldn't." He once again opened the leather-bound volume he had closed when Jean Marc came into the study. "There must always be a balance between the dreamers and the realists. In this world strength may serve a man far better than dreams."

Jean Marc stood up and moved toward the table on which he had set the statue. "I'll just get this out of your way. It's almost time for your medicine. You'll be sure to remember to take it?"

Denis nodded, his gaze on the page of his book. "You must do something about Catherine, Jean Marc."

"Catherine?"

"She's been a joy to me but she's only a child of three and ten. She shouldn't be here when it happens."

Jean Marc opened his mouth to speak, then closed it abruptly. It was the first time his father had indicated he knew the end was near.

"Please do something about our Catherine, Jean Marc."

"I will. I promise you," Jean Marc said thickly.

"Good." Denis looked up. "I'm reading Sanchia's journal, about old Lorenzo Vasaro and his Caterina."

"Again?" Jean Marc picked up the statue and carried it toward the door. "You must have read those old family journals a hundred times."

"More. I never tire of them." His father paused and smiled. "Ah, our ancestor believed in dreams, my son."

With effort Jean Marc smiled. "Like you." He opened the door. "I don't have to return to Marseilles until evening. Would you like to have dinner on the terrace? The fresh air and sunshine will be good for you."

But Denis was once more deeply absorbed in the journal and didn't answer.

Jean Marc closed the door and stood a moment, fighting the agony he felt. His father's last remarks shouldn't have hurt him, for they were true. He was no dreamer; he was a man of action.

His hand clenched on the base of the statue. Then he squared his shoulders. The pain was fading. Just as he had known it would. Just as it had so many times before. He strode across the wide foyer and threw open the door to the salon.

Desedero's gaze was searching. "He knew?"

"Yes." Jean Marc set the statue back on the pedestal. "I'll have my agent in Marseilles give you a letter of credit to our bank in Venice for the remainder of the money I owe you."

"I don't wish any more money," Desedero said. "I cheated you."

"Nonsense. You did what you were paid to do." Jean Marc's smile was filled with irony. "You were given my livres to create a statue, not a dream."

"Ah, yes." Desedero nodded in understanding. "The dream . . ."

"Well, I'm only a man of business who doesn't understand these idealistic vagaries. It appears a duplicate won't do, so I will have to get the Wind Dancer for him."

"What will you do?"

"What I should have done in the beginning. Go to Versailles myself and find a way to persuade the queen to sell the Wind Dancer. I didn't want to leave my father when—" He broke off, his hands again slowly clenching. "I knew he didn't have much time left."

"But how can you expect to succeed when she's clearly so determined to keep it?" Desedero asked gently.

"Information." Jean Marc's lips twisted in a cynical smile. "I'll find out what she most desires and give it to her in exchange for the statue. I'll take lodgings in an inn near the palace and before two weeks are gone I'll know more about the court and Her Majesty than King Louis does himself, even if I have to bribe every groom and maid in the palace.

Desedero gestured to the statue on the pedestal. "And this?"

Jean Marc avoided looking at the Pegasus as he strode to the door. "I never want to see it again. You may sell off the jewels and melt it down." He jerked open the door. "God knows, I may need the additional gold to tempt Louis into selling the Wind Dancer."

The door slammed behind him.
Iris Johansen

About Iris Johansen

Iris Johansen - Storm Winds

Photo © Bernard Vidal

Iris Johansen is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including Killer Dreams, On the Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, and No One to Trust. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.
Praise

Praise

Praise for Iris Johansen’s novels

“Iris Johansen keeps the reader intrigued with complex characters and plenty of plot twists. Moves so fast, you’ll be reading the epilogue before you notice.”
--People

“Johansen’s thrillers ooze enough testosterone to suggest she also descends from the house of Robert Ludlum. Johansen pushes the gender boundary in popular fiction, offering up that rarity: a woman’s novel for men.”
--Publishers Weekly

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