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PARIS IN RUINS: A Novel of Passion and the French Resistance by D. Manning Richards

© D. Manning Richards

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CHAPTER ONE


It all depends on whether she still cares for me, Jean-Baptiste thought as he waited for Marguerite to come into view. I’ll know as soon as she sees me. If she turns away I’ve wasted a lot of time and effort preparing for this meeting. But if she will talk to me, she could potentially provide the Resistance and London with insider intelligence of the highest value.

Initially appalled when told that his former girlfriend Marguerite had been seen on the arm of a Wehrmacht officer, he realized that it presented a golden opportunity. The German army officer was Colonel Erich von Hochstätten, chief of staff to the military governor of Paris. Surreptitiously, he had followed them to the Opéra, Maxim’s restaurant, nightclubs, and high society salons. He had gathered intelligence, prepared for this meeting, and was now ready to talk to her.

He sat on a park bench reading a paperback book in an area of the Jardin du Luxembourg where he could see her approach without her seeing him. The garden was especially green this bright June Parisian morning in 1943 following two days of rain. Listening to the morning songs of birds, he breathed in the fresh clean smell of the garden and thought about Margot, the short form of her name that he liked.

I miss her, he admitted to himself. I’m eager to hear her husky seductive voice again. He recalled her saying “My throaty voice seems to turn men’s brains into mush” and chuckled. He was one of those men.

Her outrageous personality, devastating wit, and statuesque figure were extremely attractive to him, although he wished she were not nearly his five-foot-nine-inch height. She was exceptional as the only woman he had dated who did not fawn over him, who would challenge him, and if she wanted, even intimidate him. He respected her for that, desired her, and thought perhaps he even loved her.

Then he saw her. Slender and erect, head held high, she walked with a proud purposeful stride, presenting a long-legged, well-proportioned silhouette. Even at a distance, she had a regal disdainful air about her that always attracted attention. As she came nearer, he saw that she was exquisitely attired in a fashionable knee-length, belted floral dress with puffed shoulders. The belted waistline accentuated her small waist.

He stood up, pushed the book into his sport-coat pocket, and began to walk with a slight limp toward her. Her expensive shoes caught his eye: cherry red leather pumps that matched her leather case perfectly. He immediately assumed that her rich lover must have bought these hard-to-find leather accessories for her.

She gasped and her knees went weak when she saw Jean-Baptiste. Panicked, she thought to turn around and walk back to avoid him, but he had already seen her and was approaching with a welcoming smile. She could hardly breathe, the air had been sucked out of her lungs; nevertheless, she raised her chin and lengthened her stride intending to avoid looking at him as she breezed by.

“Margot, what a pleasant surprise.”

She tried to walk by him as he was saying “You look stunning,” but he blocked her way. “Your updo hairstyle suits you perfectly,” he said, making no attempt to touch her or kiss her cheeks in greeting. “How are you? Have you finished your Master of Science degree yet?”

She was forced to look at him, into his captivating gray eyes, sparkling like ice crystals. A flood of conflicting emotions surged through her.

Steady, be nonchalant, she told herself. “Yes, and I passed the agrégation exam with honors.”

“Congratulations, that should get you into any Ph.D. program you want.”

“I’ve applied to the École Normale Supérieure.”

“Ah, good luck, the University Superior is the top of the food chain; it’s impossible to get into.”

She gave him a sour look.

“Oh, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, you have accomplished everything you’ve set out to do so far, so I think you can do it. Look, it’s wonderful seeing you . . . Let’s talk for a few minutes.” He lightly touched her elbow in an attempt to direct her toward a park bench.

Even though his touch was brief and soft, it sent a shiver through her. Her heart hammered, and she felt lightheaded. She paused, uncertain what to do. What’s this about? she wondered, and then allowed herself to sit down with him. She feared that color had come into her face giving away her flustered state.

Great! he rejoiced. She still cares for me. Smiling his outrageously captivating smile, he took out a pack of Gauloises cigarettes and offered her one.

He knows I don’t smoke, she thought. Oh, look at him. He’s so pleased with his manipulation of me—I could just slap him.

“You know I don’t smoke!” she said.

“I know you didn’t smoke, but thought maybe you’ve taken it up.”

“It’s a dirty habit that stains your teeth.”

“But look, I still have my dazzling smile.” He smiled widely to show his obstinacy and mischievous smile, revealing perfect white teeth.

Amused inwardly by his pugnacious response, though not showing it, she stared at him with cold indifference, while thinking:

He’s still incredibly handsome and rakish as ever: thick, black, wind-blown hair in careless disarray across his forehead and shirt jauntily open at the neck to show a hint of chest hair. (His necktie must be in his pocket.) His sport coat is too big on him and his trousers are a bit baggy. He’s too thin now and surprisingly much smaller than Erich.

He flipped open his cherished silver Zippo lighter and with a flourish lit his cigarette, all the while warmly gazing at her. The cigarette gave off a pungent smell that mixed with his cologne to produce an aroma similar to roasting chestnuts that she liked. It was the sensual, intoxicating scent of Jean-Baptiste that she remembered.

“Why do you want to do your doctorate at École Normale Supérieure?”

“The foremost professors of quantum mechanics are there.”

“When will you know if you are accepted or not?” His engaging questions pleased her.

There are those mesmerizing gray eyes of his, she thought, deep, penetrating, and intimidating, set off by long dark eyelashes and black devilishly high arched eyebrows. His features are really too fine, unmarred, and delicate for a man, almost feminine.

“Not until I pass an oral exam before a jury of professors. I’m on my way to the library now to study, so I don’t have much time . . .”

He blew out cigarette smoke that drifted behind him. “It’s wonderful that we’ve run into each other, Margot. I’ve wanted to talk to you—to thank you—for some time.”

“Oh, whatever for? This ought to be good.”

“I know that you live with a German colonel, who smokes by the way.”

He knows about Erich and that he smokes? Perturbed, she forced herself to stare back at him without comment.

He could not read anything on her face. “I want to thank you for not mentioning to him or any other Nazi that I had expressed an interest in becoming a résistant.” He said this quietly and pulled back to judge her reaction.

Reluctant to give him any satisfaction, she affected her I-couldn’t-care-less look. Then a cynical suspicion leaped into her mind—this isn’t about us—he wants me to spy on Erich!

“Do you still believe that the 1000-year Third Reich will establish a Pax Germanica that will benefit all Europeans and eliminate future wars?” he asked with an arrogant smirk.

He’s smug! she thought. “Do you still believe that you have to prove your manhood by joining the Resistance?”

“I thought that would get a response from you, but to prove my manhood? Really? I think I’ve proven that.”

“To compensate for your clubfoot and not being able to fight in the military.”

“That has nothing to do with it!” Controlling himself, he took a deep breath and said:

“Corrected oversupinated foot, if you please. Same old Margot, attack when cornered and—,” he stopped himself. “Sorry, I should have known better than to be sarcastic with you. It’s just a shock seeing you. Let me try again. How are you, and what are your feelings about the way things are going?”

“I don’t know how things are going. I try not to think too much about it. I don’t like that innocent hostages are being shot in reprisals for Resistance assassinations. I’m sure of that.”

“Would you like to do something about it?”

“So . . . this isn’t just a chance meeting at all.” She glowered at him. “You want to recruit me to spy on Erich and my German friends.” She sighed and shook her head in disappointment.

“You’re as quick as ever, Margot, too darn quick, though I admire you for it.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“You’re getting me right into it before I wanted to,” he said. “I was afraid it might go like this.”

“Then don’t lie to me or treat me like a fool. I’m smarter than you. If you have something you want to ask me—ask me—because I’m about to leave. I’m meeting Claire in the library,” she looked at her watch, “in five minutes.”

“How is she . . . and André?”

“Pffh, you don’t care. I’m leaving in a minute if you don’t get to it.”

“I do care. André told me that Claire chose you over me—and Claire likes me.”

“What do you want?”

“I’m not asking you to spy on anyone because that would put you in danger. I just want you to pass along any loose talk you hear that might be useful to the Resistance. You’re in an ideal situation to hear casually about what the Germans are planning. You speak perfect German and must hear useful things. I know you come in contact with a diverse group of high German military and government officials in your salon society.”

“The Resistance sent you.”

“No they didn’t, Margot. You’ll know that when I explain.”

“You’ve been spying on me that’s clear. I won’t be drawn in. It would be very dangerous for me, and you know it. In fact, it’s dangerous for me just to have this conversation with you. Since you are obviously a résistant, you may have been followed, and I’m being implicated right now as we speak.”

“Look where we’re sitting.” He took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled. “Look around.” The hand holding the cigarette swept from right to left. “Do you see anybody within earshot of us? Any one looking over his newspaper at us?”

“Don’t be ‘wise monsieur in the know’ with me. You think I’m naive? I’ve been interrogated by the Feldgendarmerie to determine the ‘why’ of my relationship with Erich, if I’m spying on him or not. I’ve been followed by shady characters, probably Gestapo plainclothes police and their paid French informers, hoping for a new face like yours to report. You can’t tell who’s following you. You just feel it. Don’t be surprised if you are interrogated because of this meeting.”

“I have a ready answer for them. We are an old boyfriend and girlfriend who ran into each other. I chose this quiet spot to meet you, so we could have a private conversation.”

“Are you a spy now, Jean-Baptiste?”

“Yes I am, Margot, and a damn good one. As a railway network controller at the SNCF, I’m in an ideal position to aid the Resistance. I’ve been doing it from before we split up. I never told you—I couldn’t tell you. When you didn’t see the need to oppose the occupation I had to leave you.”

“You broke up with me because you fell in love with Gabrielle, and she’s living with you now.”

“No, she’s gone.”

“Oh . . . What a shame. She was such a perfect match for you, an astonishing blonde beauty, not ordinary looking like me. You were in love with her. That’s why you broke up with me.”

“You’re anything but ordinary looking, and I was never in love with her. You may have thought that to justify my leaving you, although I just told you the real reason why I had to break up with you.”

“Rubbish. You were bedding her while you were still with me.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“That’s not what she told me.”

“Then she was lying to you.”

“Why would she bother?”

“Because she never liked you . . . Look, I won’t deny that she was ready and willing. She had been after me for months, but I didn’t have sex with her until after we separated. I turned to her because she is a communist who supported my point of view when you didn’t.”

“Oh, my fault . . . now I understand.”

“Don’t be snide. Really, that’s the reason I left you. I couldn’t do what I felt I had to do without your support.”

“Are you living with someone else now?”

“No one.”

“Then you’re seeing someone special, of course. Excuse me, I should be more exact: Sleeping with someone special now.”

“I am seeing someone special, although I don’t see her that often. She doesn’t know I’m spying, which takes up most of my free time.”

“Do I know her?”

“No.”

“Are you in love with her?”

“Now it’s in love with her? No! I care for her, yet what I am about to tell you I haven’t told her. If love is based on trust, then, I guess I love you more than her, because I am about to trust you with my life.”

“You are so full of yourself, Jean-Baptiste, really you are. You just thanked me a few minutes ago for not turning you over to the Nazis, or don’t you remember?”

“Yes . . . I’m sorry, of course, my life has already been entrusted to you. You’ve already protected me by not being vindictive when you could have told your colonel about me and implied that I am a résistant. Even a casual comment from you would have resulted in my interrogation by the Gestapo. I can sincerely say ‘thank you’ for that. That’s part of the reason I’ve wanted to talk to you.”

“You don’t know Erich. He’s an aristocrat and not a member of the Nazi party; in fact, he hates the Nazis, SS, and Gestapo.”

He frowned at her while thinking sarcastically: Oh, so he’s a good boche?—jeez, she thinks there are good and bad Germans.

“Regardless, I was scared for a few weeks after I heard you took up with him. In fact, I prepared myself for a quick escape, but the fear passed when I felt you had forgiven me.”

“I’ll never forgive you! It was so unexpected and mean. You wouldn’t explain or be honest with me. I didn’t know what I had done to throw you immediately into Gabrielle’s arms. I felt so humiliated. You crushed me and tore out my heart. Breaking up is one thing—I never really expected a long-term relationship—but the way you did it . . . I’ll never forgive you for that. I thought of ways to avenge your cruelty; however, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Life is what it is and can be.”

“You still use that expression of yours that I’ve never understood.”

“One can’t control life; it controls you. Life is what it is; even so, you can look to the future and take every opportunity to enjoy it. That’s what my expression means to me.”

“What about responsibility?”

“Oh, your ‘nationalism’ thing again. I’m not responsible for nations’ stupidity, only my own. I haven’t changed my attitude regarding that. Despite losing faith that this will all turn out well for Europe in the long run, I still scorn the convention that compels us to declare our allegiances, pick sides, and fight to see who wins. No one wins; we all lose. So I continue to reject your nationalism, socialism, or communist ideology, whatever you believe these days, in favor of enjoying life.

“Ah, you’re a narcissistic, self-centered, pleasure seeker then, the definition of a hedonist, I believe.”

She cocked her head toward him and pursed her full lips, giving him a stern dismissive look that said: That’s not even worth responding to. She grumbled to herself, it’s my curse to see things clearly when others resort to petty name-calling. But seeing him look so pleased with himself, she decided to put him down hard.

“I prefer bon vivant, one who lives well. And yes, perhaps I am a purposeful, self-aware narcissist, and why shouldn’t I be? I’m not married. I’m not responsible for children, and I’m focused on my education. This is my time to enjoy myself during the best years of my life, before becoming less desirable and encumbered. I didn’t cause this war and the German occupation, and it isn’t my fight to resolve. I leave that to you men who created this situation.”

“Let me remind you that fritz attacked us, not the other way around.” Frustrated, he ran his long graceful fingers through his tousled hair and peevishly tossed his cigarette butt down to the gravel path. Looking down, he said, “Don’t you have any sense of patriotism?” as he ground the cigarette butt into the gravel with his foot.

“We’ve been through all this before, Jean-Baptiste. With your sense of patriotism, if you had been born two hundred miles to the east, you’d be here as a German occupier. I want to enjoy life, and you want to drive out the invaders while putting your life in danger. I see nothing has changed.”

“A lot has changed in the past year, Margot. You need to think realistically instead of philosophically about the fact that Germany is losing the war, being attacked on all sides. You aren’t going to be able to enjoy your ‘joy of life’ much longer.”

“I am thinking realistically. I’m a realist.”

“No, you’re an idealist with your head in the sand, thinking you can do whatever you please without consequence.”

He’s so cocksure of himself, she thought, it’s infuriating. Let’s see if I can get an honest answer to this question:

“Did you . . . or did you have somebody in the Resistance mail to me a little black coffin with my name on one side and ‘collaborateur horizontale’ on the other?”

“No,” he lied with a concerned look.

Humph!

In response to her disbelieving scoff, he added: “Honest to God, Margot, I didn’t,” lying again, “although I know they are doing that and have a list of collaborators. When I explain what I do you’ll understand that I’m not involved in the Resistance’s vengeful intimidations.” Seeing her distrustful glare, he paused and looked persuasively at her, as if asking for her consent to draw her into his web of intrigue.

Marguerite stared at him, thinking that he was lying . . . Although I can’t tell for sure. His earnest expression is inscrutable. He has to be lying; it’s too much of a coincidence—the coffin was sent to me in preparation for this meeting.

“I don’t want to know anything more about this, Jean-Baptiste, which can’t do me, or you, any good. And with that, I’m leaving.”

* * *

She began to rise.

He placed his hand on her arm preventing her from rising.

“Don’t touch me!” she said, jerking her arm away.

“I’m sorry, but you are in danger, Margot, and you know it. I can help you. People, neighbors, will come looking for you on the day of liberation.”

“Liberation may be a long time off, if it comes at all.”

“You’re wrong! Within two years the Germans will be defeated. They’ve already been beaten in North Africa and Stalingrad, and now Hitler has declared he will conduct a punitive total war more horrible than anything we can even imagine. They are becoming desperate and threatening to use secret weapons capable of destroying whole cities. What will be the fate of Paris?”

“This talk of doomsday secret weapons is frightful and utterly nihilistic. I don’t want to think about it or get involved. This war will have to be decided without me. Don’t put my name on any list, such as your potential spy list, thank you. I fear you won’t be around much longer, Jean-Baptiste. The Resistance is a porous organization, easily infiltrated by paid informers and double agents. You must have a death wish. Resistance members are being killed daily and arrested in droves and sent off to Drancy internment camp or worse.”

“I’ve been providing useful information to the Resistance for over a year now, Margot. How do you think I’ve survived? This is what I want to share with you.”

“I don’t want to know how you’ve persevered. It scares me just to think about it. I’m leaving.” As she began to rise, he grabbed her hand and stood up with her.

“Please, don’t leave, Margot, I beg you.” He let go of her hand. “I’m concerned about you. Your life is going to change radically in a year or so. Your name is on a list of collaborators who have given aid and comfort to the enemy. You are going to have to leave France with your colonel to be safe. Is he prepared to take you to his castle in Germany? He’s married with children. Please, give me a minute or two to tell you how I can help. Then you can leave. Please just a minute more. Sit back down, please.”

His pleading eyes made her sit down.

“If you choose to leave France when the boche are forced out, you will not be able to return for years or visit your father in Clermont-Ferrand. You will not be able to teach in France or do the research you want to do here. God forbid that you try to stay in Paris. You could face a murderous mob, prison, or worse. You must have someone, like me, who can shelter you and speak up on your behalf. If you provide useful information, I can point to it and say you were working for me in defense of France.”

“I couldn’t spy on Erich even if I wanted to. I’m too honest to be any good at it; he’d know.”

“Don’t use the word ‘spy’ at all. You won’t be spying on your Erich or anyone else, just passing along information to me when you casually hear something that may help win the war and save France from destruction. This is for your own good, Margot, really it is.”

She considered this for a moment: The war is going badly for Germany. It could go badly for me too. I won’t spy on Erich, but I could tell him about the Peenemünde facility. It’s been bothering me. It would give me something to point to if I need it.

“I’m not going to spy for you, and that’s final, but I do know something that I think is really important. If I tell it to you, will you promise to leave me alone and support me later if I call for your help?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t give me an asinine ‘of course’ like that!”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to swear to God not to mention my name as the source of this secret information, that you won’t write my name on any list for the Gestapo to find if you are arrested, that you won’t bother me again with requests to give you more information, that if you are tortured you won’t give up my name, and that you will stand up in my defense later if I need you. That’s what the hell I want you to say and swear to.”

“I swear to all of that and to protect you in every way I can.” He smiled warmly as he placed his hand over his heart. “I swear to that, Margot. You’re doing the right thing and won’t regret it.”

“It’s about something you’ve already mentioned. To be honest, I’ve wanted to tell someone because what’s the point of more terrible destruction and loss of life? It’s about one of Hitler’s secret weapons.”

“What have you heard?”

Stop and think, Marguerite. Am I sure that I want to do this? Is this smart?

He looked expectantly at her, concerned now.

She turned away from him and closed her eyes, while thinking . . .

I’ve got to be realistic. Once I’ve told him, I’m committed and have placed myself in great danger. He’s not interested in me; he’s shown that. Do I want to be worried about this? He’s not worth it. I can’t allow him to drag me into this. He’s just trying to use me—don’t be a foolish romantic! She turned back to face him.

“I’m sorry, Jean-Baptiste, I’ve reconsidered. I don’t want to be stupid or have this on my mind to worry about. And I don’t like saying this, after all we once meant to each other, but I don’t trust you. I don’t want to place myself in danger.”

“No!” His head and whole body shook rejecting her decision. He grabbed her hand with both of his, while saying, “You’ve already placed yourself in great danger.” His steely eyes bore into hers. “You’re a collabo, Margot, living with a German officer, enjoying the high life, while the rest of us starve and freeze. You’re wearing new leather shoes! This past winter there was no coal. People broke up furniture to burn in their fireplace and lived and slept in one room for warmth. You’ve seen people pulling up grass in the parks to feed their guinea pigs for meat. The lack of food and medicine is killing the old and sick. We have to wait in long lines for rationed food while you and your well-fed German friends feast at German-controlled restaurants like the Ritz, Maxim’s, and Tour d’Argent. People know who you are and hate you. When liberation comes, they’ll come for you—for revenge!—and you know it.”

Appalled that she had let him hold her hand, she withdrew it and turned her head away from his vehement glare.

Merde! (Crap!) He’s right. I have to trust him. I’m between a rock and a hard place. He’s promised to protect me. I should tell him. It will save lives. That’s the most important thing.

“All right . . . here it is,” she said. “The Germans are near deploying pilotless, large flying bombs that can travel a couple hundred miles to bomb London and the British into submission. They are—”

Interrupting her, he said, “Ah, I’ve heard that too. It’s just German propagan—”

“SHUT . . . up! You beg me to tell you what I know; then you stupidly interrupt me!”

Raising his hands in mock horror, he said, “I’m sorry, jeez.” He quickly looked around. “But please don’t raise your voice like that again, Margot, people could be walking by. I shouldn’t have interrupted you, sorry, go ahead.”

“You can’t believe it, can you? that I know something important. Do you want to hear this or not?”

“I made a mistake—I said I’m sorry.” He looked around again, concerned that they may be attracting attention.

Staring angrily at him while gradually regaining her composure, she finally said in a low voice: “They’re called ‘V’ flying bombs and are powered by a pulsejet engine. They look like a plane with wings but have no propeller and no pilot. As a jet they travel faster than propeller-driven planes and can’t be easily shot down. This isn’t propaganda. These flying bombs have been tested over the past few years and are ready for production. Launching sites are being built in secluded areas near Calais to bomb London and will be used to wipe out any Allied invasion from England. It’s part of Germany’s Fortress Europe plan.”

“What does the ‘V’ stand for?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s a pulsejet engine?”

“It’s an engine in which combustion occurs in pulses. I don’t know why it’s in pulses. A special high octane gas is exploded in the engine’s chamber and released as a jet that thrusts the flying bomb forward.

“So . . . the Germans have found a way to control and direct artillery bombs.”

“No, this has nothing to do with conventional artillery. They aren’t shot through a gun barrel. They’re catapulted from a metal launching ramp and fly with wings like a plane. These ‘V’ bombs can fly many times further than the longest artillery bombs.”

“Do you know the location of any launching sites?”

“No, but I know where they are being produced. It’s at a secret testing and production facility on a Baltic Sea island called Peenemünde along the German coast. “It’s a Wehrmacht facility, although the Luftwaffe is angling to take it over. The air force wants to control everything that flies.”

“I can use this,” he said. “With no pilot how is the bomb dropped?”

“The whole thing is a bomb. They calculate how far they want it to fly and only put in that much fuel. When it runs out of gas, it falls and the whole flying bomb explodes on impact. Its accuracy is probably not that great, but it can certainly hit London, although probably not Buckingham Palace.”

“This is important intelligence.”

“I think this is very important information that should save a lot of lives and be well worth my pardon. I didn’t get this information from Erich, so I don’t have to feel guilty.”

“Who’s the source of the information?” he asked.

“Why is that important? I don’t want any connection to me or Erich.”

“London gets intelligence from hundreds of sources every day and judges its worth based on the source. Since you’ve just demanded that I can’t mention you or your colonel in my report, I need the source of the information, or it will be lost in the shuffle.”

“A drunken Luftwaffe colonel trying to impress me with how important he is. He’s a good friend of Erich’s and is enamored with me. He’s stationed in Paris but goes to Peenemünde often. After first telling me about this when he was drunk, he seems to feel that I’m his confidant, so he whispers a status report when he sees me now. He thinks it is comforting for me to know Germany cannot be defeated.”

“His name?”

“Colonel Werner von Imhoff. He works in Luxembourg Palace. He could be looking out the window right now wondering who you are.”

“Cute,” Jean-Baptiste said with a smile. “I think we are in a part of the garden that no one can see us from the palace. To recount: It’s called a ‘V’ flying bomb with wings, no pilot, and it’s powered by a pulsejet engine faster than a propeller engine. Launched from a ramp, it flies like a plane, and when it runs out of gas, it falls and explodes on impact. Peenemünde. Is that spelled P-e-e-n-e—?”

“I don’t know exactly, but probably like it sounds: Pee-ne, then m-ü-n-d-e. I like that you are committing it to memory.”

“No incriminating paper. I’m a lot smarter than you think,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Colonel Werner von Imhoff, right?”

“Yes, and ‘von’ in German means he’s an aristocrat.”

“I know that.”

“Now you’ve promised to leave me in peace. I want to go on with my enjoyment of life with Erich for as long as I can. I fear for you, Jean-Baptiste, and myself now, because I expect that you will be found out. I’ve entrusted you with my life now . . . I’m depending on you not to write my name anywhere or mention it to anyone. Despite our breakup, I hope you make it through the occupation. But I never want to see you again. It’s too difficult for me. Have a good life.” As she stood, she said, “Goodbye.”

He also stood and took hold of her arm as she was turning to leave. She turned back to face him.

“You’re wrong about my feelings for you, Margot.” He was looking deeply into her eyes with tenderness and regret while continuing to hold her arm. “I broke up with you only because I didn’t want to place you in danger. It’s always been my intention to return to you if I made it through the occupation.” He let go of her arm and looked at her expectantly.

“Oh thank you so much, your grace,” she said sarcastically with a slight curtsy.

His jaw dropped, staggered and wide-eyed, he looked at her with confused disbelief.

“You’re so incredibly conceited!—do you know that, Jean-Baptiste? You never even asked me how I feel about Erich! You just presume that I, like every one of your past conquests, will naturally swoon when you coo something like that and fall back into your arms.” She turned curtly and quickly walked away, head up, but with tears brimming in her eyes.

Trembling, head pounding, and feeling nauseated, she choked back a sob and scolded herself.

Dammit, I’m not going to cry. What’s the matter with me! Get hold of yourself, Marguerite. You’ve learned your lesson. He’s not right for you, an egotistical, womanizing bastard. Untrustworthy! You’ve just told him to leave you alone and that you never want to see him again (oh, but I still love him).

After passing through the park gate, she took a silk handkerchief out of her purse, wiped her eyes, and forcefully blew her nose loudly as if clearing her mind of Jean-Baptiste forever.

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