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A beautiful, privileged Creole woman's life is torn apart when her father's illegitimate son suddenly reappears and demands a stake in her family's life
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The golden glow of the floodlit Arc de Triomphe bathed the heavens as the Seine River, shimmering and metallic, flowed through the city dividing it in half. On the Right Bank, huge red and gold bows and tiny twinkling bulbs adorned the windows of the shops and boutiques along the elegant Champs Elyseés. Fir trees decked with shiny gold ornaments and hundreds of miniature white lights glittered and sparkled. It was Christmas in Paris and the night air was crisp with excitement as shoppers rushed to make last-minute purchases.
Vadé Chevalier watched her warm breath form wisps of smoke and disappear as she walked hand in hand with her father. Her hand-tailored black cashmere coat felt good that evening. Swinging her shopping bag filled with special gifts for her younger brother, Laurent, she skipped an extra step to keep up with her father's cool, lean stride. She couldn't wait to see her brother's face when he opened the tin of new paints, charcoals, and pad she had purchased for him.
"Look, Papá!" She removed a gloved hand from her father's large, strong one and pointed to a crucifix encrusted with diamonds on a delicate gold filigree chain in the store window. "Do you think Mamá would like it?"
Without further discussion, the two of them turned and walked into the brightly lit shop.
"Welcome, monsieur! Mademoiselle!" An impeccably dressed saleslady handed them each a glass of champagne.
"Merci, madame." Vadé giggled as she sipped the sparkling wine that she was allowed to sample only during the holidays. "Papá! The bubbles tickle my nose."
She removed the butter-soft leather gloves and carefully tucked them into her Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and selected a square of spinach quiche from the silver tray before her. From a mirror behind the counter she caught a glimpse of her cocoa face and long black braid and turned to face her father again.
"Is this the necklace you wanted, Princess?" Her father smiled as the clerk displayed the cross she had shown him in the window.
"Oui, Papá!" She smiled and took a tiny sip of the champagne as he chatted in French with the clerk. She was so proud of her handsome father. A black silky beard covered his smooth mocha skin. He was internationally renowned as a jazz pianist, with his own group, Amour.
"Here is another treasure for your bag." He placed a box wrapped in purple foil, tied with a gold bow, in her bag while he tucked another small box in the pocket of his cashmere coat.
"What was that, Papá?" She pointed to his coat pocket.
"What was what?" He tried to suppress a smile. "What did you put into your pocket?"
"Je n'ais sais pas, Princess. What other shopping do we have?"
Vadé smiled and took a list from her purse. "Did you get a gift for Big Claude?"
He looked through the stack of beautifully wrapped packages he was carrying. "Yes, I did."
"Bien. Then we are done."
"Good. We still have to make beignet for our Christmas Eve party after midnight Mass."
"Beignet," Vadé repeated, smacking her lips. "My favorite."
Beignet were delicious sweet square-shaped doughnuts lavishly sprinkled with powdered sugar, served warm with café au lait. Pierre made a batch every year at Christmas. He had learned a special recipe while working as a waiter in a restaurant in New Orleans. The guests would be sorely disappointed if there were none of her father's famous beignet and Desiree's Creole gumbo and rice. Vadé could taste the savory seafood stew already.
"I can't wait. Let's go home, Papa."
They walked several blocks through the busy square to a quiet residential area and up the walkway of a magnificent seventeenth-century five-story town house. Pierre pushed open the delicate black wrought-iron gate decorated with foliage and chimera into a courtyard tiled in black and ivory marble. Stairs of dressed stone, lit by hanging lanterns, curved graciously up an elegant staircase. Pierre took Vadé"s shopping bag, pulled her tam from her head, and ran his hand across her silky black hair, the same texture and color as his own.
"A gentleman always carries his lady's packages."
"I don't need a gentleman to carry my packages as long as I have you and Lar," she teased. "I'll have them do other things for me."
"I bet you will." Her father was laughing now.
A blaze of light and warmth greeted them as the cutest golden boy with bronze skin and hair and copper eyes threw open the front door.
"Mamá! They're here! Papá, what is in all of those packages? Are any of those for me?"
"Yes. And don't ask us anymore questions or you won't get anything." Vadé laughed.
"Yes, I will! Day, Papá! Guess what?" he continued, even more excited than before.
"What?" Vadé was almost as excited as her brother. They were in the entrance hall. A massive Louis III table sat opposite two upholstered benches. An engraving by the French painter Nicolas Pouissin hung over the table.
"Mamá and I wrote a song. We're going to sing it tonight at the reveilion."
In the salon, the main reception room, a fire was roaring in the fireplace and a Christmas tree stood waiting to be decorated.
"The tree." Vadé sighed with pleasure. She quickly unbut-toned her coat, tossed it on the end of the sofa, and ran across the room to the large fir.
"You better get busy, young lady."
Vadé was the spitting image of her mother, Desiree Chevalier, except she was cocoa, and Desiree was golden vanilla. Her blond silky straight hair was pinned up into a huge bun on the top of her head. A mere five feet, she made up for what she lacked in height by her captivating beauty. Her voluptuous curves were unable to hide beneath her cook's apron. She stared into her daughter's green eyes with an identical set.
"Vadé, hang that coat up!"
Pierre picked up his daughter's coat, pulled his wife into his arms, and kissed her.
"And you better get to those beignets or else you get no gumbo, she said."
"That's what you think, woman. I'm getting a sample now."
He laughed as he tossed Vadé"s coat back onto the couch, and ran into the kitchen. Desiree ran behind him laughing, as Laurent sat down next to his sister in front of a huge box of Christmas decorations. Vadé and Laurent always decorated the tree while their parents cooked, kissed, and drank champagne in the kitchen. It was a family tradition.
"That's nice that you and Mamá have a new song for tonight, Lar."
Lar was Vadé"s own special pet name for her younger brother. She started calling him that the day he came home from the hospital fourteen years ago. No one called him Lar but Vadé, and the family.
The children took out a set of colored lights and strung them on the tree. Laurent, a talented artist, was the master craftsman and Vadé, his assistant. By the time they had hung the last bulb and string of tinsel on the tree, their noses led them into the kitchen where their father was sprinkling powdered sugar on a sheet of beignet. Desiree poured everyone tall steaming cups of vanilla latte sprinkled with cinnamon and the family lit into the hot pastry.
"I hate this time of year." Desiree groaned as she picked up the last piece, pulled it in half, and gave the largest portion to her son. "I always have to go on a diet in January."
"You're beautiful, Mamá," Laurent assured her.
"Thank you, sweetheart." She patted her hips and laughed.
"It's the only place where that African blood really shows," she reminded her husband. "Vadé, Laurent, it's time for you to get dressed for Mass. And, Vadé, clear those dishes from the table."
"Oui, Mamá." Vadé picked up her brother's dishes and added them to her own.
"I'll help." Laurent jumped up and collected his parents' dishes for his sister.
The only time she talks to me is when she's telling me what to do. Vadé placed the dishes in a black stone sink and rinsed out the cups.
"Did you get a present for JP?" Laurent teased, bringing her into the present. "I heard he has one for you." Laurent's eyes sparkled with mischief as he smiled at his sister.
"Where did you hear that? Did Little Claude tell you?"
"I'm not telling where I heard what, but JP does have a gift for you. You bought him a gift, didn't you, Day?"
"Yes." She smiled. "You know I did."
Little Claude was her brother's best friend. He was the son of their father's best friend, big Claude, with whom he had started the jazz group. Laurent and Little Claude were the same age, born only days apart. The men had been in America handling business with the record company while their wives were in Paris. Desiree and Big Claude's wife, Giselle, were pregnant together. They swore the men had planned it that way.
Jean Paul, affectionately known as JP, was Little Claude's first cousin from America. He was eighteen, and had recently joined them for a year of classes at the University of Paris. He would continue his international relations degree at Gram-bling. He had been smitten with fifteen-year-old Vadé, as all the boys were. However, JP was older, American, and therefore a novelty to Vadé.
"I bought him a Dallas Cowboys jersey. You know he's always talking about that American football team."
"Good, he'll like that. I'm just glad you got him something, because I wouldn't want to see a grown man cry."
Vadé laughed and couldn't help smiling now that her brother had brought up JP. She saw her shopping bag on her canopy bed and slipped back into the living room to arrange her presents for the family under the tree. Her father's gifts were still sitting on the huge round coffee table. It was the centerpiece for a sofa and several Queen Anne chairs placed ...
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