Read Echoes Online

Authors: Danielle Steel

Echoes (5 page)

“He did me, too.” Only infinitely better looking, but she didn't say that as she quietly cut her meat, and prayed that no one could hear her heart pounding. He had pulled it off to perfection, not that it mattered. Whatever they felt for each other could go nowhere, but at least she could see him. Once more anyway. It was a happy memory she could take with her. The handsome young man she had met in Geneva. She was sure that everyone she met after that would compare unfavorably with him for years. She was already resigned to it, and imagined herself as a spinster for the rest of her life as she ate her dinner. His most unforgivable sin was that he wasn't Jewish. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't Swiss either. It was hopeless.

“Why didn't you tell me you hurt your ankle this afternoon?” her mother asked, sounding concerned after he left.

“It was nothing. He bumped into me as I came up to the terrace at teatime, after my walk at the lake. I think he felt sorry for me. I just turned it a little.”

“In that case, it was nice of him to invite you to tea. And us to lunch tomorrow.” She could see that her mother was momentarily under his spell, too. It was hard not to be. He was so handsome and so nice to everyone, and Beata was secretly pleased that he had ignored Brigitte. All the other men Beata knew nearly fainted at her sister's feet. But he seemed unimpressed. He was dazzled by Beata, although he hadn't shown that either. He had seemed perfectly normal and friendly, quite like Ulm, which was why Monika had accepted his invitation to lunch. He was definitely not a masher, as she had feared, but entirely respectable and agreeable to talk to. Beata said nothing more about it as the three of them finished their dinner. She didn't even glance his way as they left the terrace, and he made no effort to speak to them again. It was not at all what Monika had suspected or feared. Even Jacob couldn't disapprove. The chance meeting had obviously been harmless.

Only Brigitte was far more clever than either of them when the two girls finally reached their room, after saying goodnight to their mother.

“Oh my God, Beata, he's gorgeous!” she whispered to her older sister in wild-eyed admiration. “And he's crazy about you. The two of you totally fooled Mama.” Brigitte thought it was terrific and could imagine clandestine lovers' meetings at midnight.

“Don't be stupid,” Beata said as she took off the red dress and tossed it on a chair, wishing now that she had worn something more glamorous. As she thought of him, the dress seemed so plain. And she thought she was, too. “He's not crazy about me. He doesn't even know me. And we did not fool Mama. He invited us to lunch, and she accepted. That's all, just lunch, for heaven's sake. He's just being friendly.”

“Now you're being stupid. Men like that don't invite you to lunch unless they're mad about you. He didn't even look at you when he came to the table, or barely, and that says everything.”

“What on earth do you mean?” Beata looked amused.

“Oh, Beata”—her sister laughed at her—“you know absolutely nothing about men. When they act like you mean nothing to them, it means they are madly in love with you. And when they make a big fuss over you and look wild with love, they're usually lying.” Beata laughed at her sister's worldly wise analysis of the situation. But she was far more sophisticated in the ways of the world, and men, than Beata. She had good instincts. Better than her shy, serious sister.

“That's ridiculous.” Beata laughed with her, but she was secretly pleased. “So you are telling me that all the men who ignore me, like everyone in the restaurant tonight, are actually madly in love with me. How wonderful! And I'll certainly have to watch out for the ones who appear to love me, if they're all lying. Good Lord, how confusing!”

“Yes, it is,” Brigitte agreed, “but that's usually the way it works. The ones who make a fuss are just playing. It's the others, the ones like him, who mean it.”

“Mean what?” Beata looked at her younger sister, lying elegantly across the bed in her satin underwear, looking like a very glamorous young woman.

“Men like him. That they love you. I'm sure he's fallen in love with you.”

“Well, it won't do him much good. We're going back to Cologne in three weeks,” Beata said matter-of-factly, as she took off her slip and put on her nightgown, which made her look like a child compared to her sister. She always made herself white cotton nightgowns that were the same ones she had worn since she was a little girl. They were comfortable, and she liked them.

“A lot can happen in three weeks,” Brigitte said mysteriously, as Beata shook her head, looking serious again. She knew better.

“No, it can't. He's not Jewish. All we can ever be is friends.”

That sobered even Brigitte, as they both thought of their father. “That's true,” Brigitte said sadly, “but at least you can flirt with him. You need the practice.”

“Yes,” Beata said thoughtfully as she walked into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. “I suppose I do.” Neither of them mentioned Antoine again that night, but as Beata lay in bed, thinking of him for hours before she fell asleep, she thought with regret of the miserable luck that the first man she had ever been absolutely enchanted by wasn't Jewish. And nearly as bad, he was French. Nothing could ever come of it, but at least she could enjoy his company for the next three weeks. It was nearly four o'clock in the morning, when she finally fell asleep.

3

T
HEIR LUNCH WITH
A
NTOINE THE NEXT DAY WAS EVERY
-thing it should have been, and everything Beata had wished. Polite, pleasant, cordial, totally respectable. He was extremely respectful to her mother, treated Brigitte like a silly little girl, and made them all laugh when he teased her. He was intelligent, charming, kind, funny, and wonderful to be with. Not to mention the fact that he was gorgeous. He told them funny stories about his family, and described his family's property as a nightmare to run and keep, although it was obvious that he loved it. He never slipped and let on that it was in France not Switzerland. By the end of lunch, Monika adored him, and saw nothing wrong with his taking a walk with Beata after lunch. He had made no romantic overtures during lunch, and there was nothing sleazy or sneaky about him. As far as Beata's mother was concerned, he was just a very nice person, enjoying three new friends. Beata's mother had absolutely no qualms or concerns about him. It was a huge relief to both Antoine and Beata when they were finally alone, and walked for miles along the lake. This time when they finally stopped to sit and talk, they did so on a narrow rim of beach, and sat on the sand with their feet in the water, talking about a thousand things. They seemed to share similar tastes and opinions on almost everything.

“Thank you for taking us to lunch, you were so nice to my mother and Brigitte.”

“Don't be silly. They were very nice to me. Although your sister is going to be a terror and break men's hearts. I hope they marry her off soon.”

“They will,” Beata said with a quiet smile. She had particularly appreciated the way he had reacted to Brigitte. He kept her in her place, teased her like the child she was, and had no romantic interest in her whatsoever. Beata felt unkind for it, but she was pleased. Brigitte was a lot for her to live with. “She's more or less in love with one of Horst's friends, and my father is going to talk to his father soon. I'm sure she'll be engaged by the end of the year.”

“And what about you?” Antoine asked, looking concerned, although Beata didn't see it. “Are they going to settle on someone for you?”

“I hope not. I won't do that. I don't think I'll ever marry,” she said quietly, and she sounded as though she meant it.

“Why not?”

“Because I can't imagine wanting someone they pick out for me. The thought of it makes me feel ill. I don't want a husband I don't love, or know, or want. I'd rather be alone, forever.” There was real vehemence in her voice, as he watched her, feeling both relieved and sad for her.

“Forever is a long time, Beata. You'll want to have children, and you should. Maybe you'll meet someone you'll fall in love with one day. I'm sure you will. You're only twenty, you have your whole life ahead of you.” He sounded sad as he said it, and as she looked at him, their eyes met and held for a long time before she answered him.

“So do you.”

“I have a war to fight. Who knows which of us will survive it? Men are dropping like flies on the battlefields.” And then as he said it, he thought of her brothers, and was sorry to have said what he did. “I'm sure we'll all come out of it in the end, but it makes it hard to think about the future. I've always thought I would stay single, too. I don't think I've ever been in love,” he said honestly, looking at her, and his next words stunned her almost as much as he stunned himself, “until I met you.” There was an endless silence after he spoke, and she had no idea what to answer, except that she knew she was in love with him, too, and they had just met. It was a crazy thing for him to say, and for either of them to feel, but they did, and there was nothing they would ever be able to do about it. It was impossible and they both knew it, but he had said it anyway.

“I'm Jewish,” she blurted out. “I can never marry you,” she said as tears filled her eyes, and he took her hand in his.

“Stranger things have happened, Beata. People do marry outside their faith.” He had been fantasizing about marrying her all day. It was a crazy dream for both of them, but he couldn't deny what he felt. It had taken him thirty-two years to find her, and he didn't want to lose her yet. Or ever, if he could help it. But there were certainly obstacles in their path. It would be difficult at best. His own family would be incensed. He was the Comte de Vallerand, a count, and he hadn't even told her that yet. He was sure it would make no difference to her. What they were drawn to in each other was far deeper than faith or titles or position or birth. He loved everything about her, what she said and how she felt, how she viewed the world, and she loved the same things about him. They were drawn to each other for the right reasons, but their faith and their nationalities and allegiances and families would conspire to keep them apart. The trick would be not to let them win, if they could do it. That remained to be seen.

“My family would never allow it. My father would kill me. They would disown me,” she said in response to his comment about people marrying outside their faith. In her family, it was unheard of.

“Maybe not, if we went to them one day. Mine would be upset, too. They'd have to have time to get used to the idea. And we have a war to fight first. If we decide to do this, we have a long road ahead of us. This is only the beginning, but I want you to know that I love you. I've never said that to anyone before.” There were tears in her eyes as she nodded and looked at him. They sat next to each other on the beach, holding hands, and her voice was only a whisper when she spoke.

“I love you, too.” He turned and smiled at her, and without saying a word, he leaned over and kissed her and held her for a long time. They didn't do anything they shouldn't, he was just happy to be with her.

“I wanted you to know that I love you, in case something happens to me when I go back. I want you to know that this man loves you, and will love you till the day he dies.” It was a huge statement to make after knowing her for two days. But he meant it. She felt that way, too.

“That better not be for a very long time,” she said solemnly, referring to “loving her till the day he died.”

“It won't be,” he said. They sat there for an hour, and he kissed her again before they went back. He didn't want to do anything to jeopardize or hurt her. All he wanted to do was protect and love her, but the very fact that they cared about each other put them both in a difficult spot. Theirs was not going to be an easy path, but it seemed like their destiny to each of them. They both felt that, as they walked back toward the hotel hand in hand.

They worked out a plan to see each other later that night. She said that Brigitte slept like a rock and wouldn't hear her leave. They were going to meet in the garden at midnight, just to talk. It was a risky prospect if her mother found out about it, but Beata said that if she or Brigitte were still up, she wouldn't come. He urged her to be cautious and wise, although what they were doing was anything but. By some miracle, she managed to get out, and every night after that. For three weeks they took walks, had tea together, and met late at night. All they did was kiss and talk. And by the time he left Geneva, shortly before she did, they were deeply in love, and had vowed to spend the rest of their lives together, some way, somehow. They were going to speak to their families after the war, whenever that was. In the meantime he would write to her. He had a cousin in Geneva and would mail letters to him, and he would send them on to Beata in Cologne. He had worked it all out. Otherwise it would have been impossible to get letters into Germany from France.

Their last night together was torture, and he held her in his arms for hours. It was nearly dawn when she went back, with tears running down her face, but she knew that if the fates conspired to help them, they would be together one day. He was due to get a leave at Christmas, but he had to go home to Dordogne. There was no way he could come to Germany to see her, as long as the war was on. Her family had no plans to come to Switzerland again. They would have to wait. But there was no doubt in her mind or his that they would. What they had found came once in a life time and was worth waiting for. They were both absolutely sure of their feelings for each other.

“Don't forget how much I love you,” he whispered, when she left him in the garden. “I'll be thinking of you every moment till I see you again.”

“I love you,” she whispered between sobs, and then she went back and slipped into her bed in the room she shared with Brigitte. Two hours later, still awake, she saw a letter slide under her door. She got up to get it, and when she carefully opened the door, he was already gone. The note told her what she knew already, how much he loved her, and that she would be his one day. She folded it carefully and put it in the drawer where she kept her gloves. She didn't have the heart to destroy it, although to be safe, she knew she should. But being so much taller than her older sister, Brigitte never wore Beata's gloves, so she knew it was safe. Beata had no idea what would happen now. All she knew was that she loved him, and all she could do now was pray that he stayed alive. Her heart was his.

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