Antonia Adams was a tiny, elfin, delicate child from the time she was born. Her father thought she looked like an angel, with a fuzz of white-blond hair as a baby, soft blond curls as she grew older, and big blue eyes. She would look directly at him, even before she could talk, as though she had something to say. She wasn’t shy at first, but became that way very quickly, living in the war zone between her parents.
She knew when to talk, and when not to, and most of the time it was safer not to. She learned to disappear, to hide in the shadows, to make herself so small and stay so silent that they forgot she was in the room. And at the opportune moment, as their battles became more heated, she could slip away quietly. In their rage at each other, her parents forgot that Antonia existed, and was even in the same room with them. She had perfected the art of seeming invisible, almost like a ghost. She felt safest when no one was paying attention to her. She would sit alone in her room for hours, reading a book, or playing with her dolls, or just daydreaming and looking out the window, wondering about the people she saw walk by.
When she saw other children, she wondered if their parents fought like that too, but she would never have dared to ask. She lived in a world full of adults, fraught with hostility, and saw other children only at school. She was smaller than the others, and they often assumed that she was younger than they were and called her a baby. She had no grandparents on either side, and both of her parents were only children, as she was, so there were no important adults in her life, except her parents.
She was made to feel like an intruder from the beginning. The only way she knew to remedy that was to stay out of sight. By the time she was seven, Antonia had perfected the art of seeming invisible, and feeling that way. She was most comfortable when no one could see her. Being noticed by anyone, particularly her parents, seemed fraught with risk.
Antonia looked nothing like her French mother, Fabienne Basquet, a fiery young woman with jet black hair, porcelain white skin, and lush lips, enhanced by bright red lipstick. She had flashing dark eyes, as large as Antonia’s, and for as long as Antonia could remember, her mother had been angry most of the time. Antonia’s father had fallen madly in love with her from the first moment he saw her. Only later did he realize it had been lust, not love. She was irresistible. She had full breasts and a tiny waist, long slim legs, and coiled her dark hair in a knot at the nape of her neck. It fell to her waist in a heavy dark curtain when she released it when they went to bed.
She was working as a waitress in a café in Paris when they met. Fabienne had chatted easily with Brandon Adams while she served him, and asked him where he was from. He said he was American, from New York, and was in Paris on business. She could tell that he had money. He was wearing a well-cut suit, and a gold watch on his wrist. He was mesmerized by Fabienne. She was twenty-four years old, and he was eight years older. She looked nothing like any of the conservative, well-brought-up women he knew, and was stunningly beautiful. She told him that she was trying to be an actress, which he could easily believe.
Fabienne came from a simple background. She was born during the deprivation of post-war France. Her mother, Marceline, had survived the Occupation, and fallen in love with one of the American soldiers who had filled the city after the Occupation and the end of the war. She had caught his eye on the street one day, and he invited her to a meal at a nearby café. She was hungry all the time. All her money went for medicine for her invalid mother. Her father had been killed in an explosion in the early days of the Resistance, and she was making ends meet doing any work she could get, cleaning floors in restaurants, waiting on tables, and as a maid at a small hotel.
The handsome American soldier was an answer to her prayers. He fed her, brought her chocolates and stockings. He was soft-spoken and young, and kind to her. Fabienne’s mother didn’t know that she was pregnant when he was transferred back to the States, and he didn’t leave her any information about how to reach him. For him, she was a brief wartime experience, an exotic memory he would carry with him, but knew he would never see her again. He had a girl waiting for him at home, and intended to marry her, although he never told Fabienne’s mother that. She didn’t need to know. He made no promises he didn’t keep. He left Paris, as so many other soldiers did, with unforgettable memories of his time in Paris, leaving behind a baby he knew nothing about and never would.
Fabienne’s mother realized she was pregnant two months after he had left, and tried to discover his whereabouts from the army base in Paris. His name was Jimmy Smith, she knew nothing else about him, not even his birth date. They were never able to locate him for her. He was one of hundreds or even thousands of young American soldiers who had left women and babies in Paris, and all over Europe. Marceline was hardly unusual, and her mother died soon after he had left. She tried living alone in Paris, but couldn’t afford to stay there with a child on the way and no one to help her, and shortly before Fabienne was born, Marceline went to live with her grandmother in Brittany, where Fabienne grew up. Marceline died when Fabienne was only three. A truck hit her as she rode her bicycle home from work in a local bakery. Fabienne was too young to understand what had happened to her mother. She was twelve when her widowed great-grandmother died of a stroke. Having no other relatives, she was sent to an orphanage in Quimper, where she stayed until she was eighteen. And then, like a homing pigeon, she went to Paris, a city she didn’t know but had dreamed of all her life. She already had dreams of becoming an actress at eighteen, but had no luck getting parts, despite her striking beauty. She got a few jobs as a model, but her figure was too full for most modeling jobs, so she supported herself as a waitress, in the café where Brandon Adams met her shortly after she turned twenty-four. She had been in Paris for six years by then, and had never given up her dreams of being in the movies one day. She thought Paris was the most exciting city in the world, and was hoping to be “discovered” by a producer.
Fabienne was a survivor. She was born into hardship, from a long line of determined women. She was bold and fearless, cocky, and willing to fight for whatever she wanted. Brandon sensed that about her and admired her for it. She never complained about her early life, but he could sense that it hadn’t been easy. What struck him about her immediately was her indomitable spirit, and her stunning beauty. He was fascinated by her, and came back to the café where she worked to see her every day. When he walked her home one night after work, to the place where she rented a small squalid room, she told him that her father had been American, but she had never known him. He had gone back to the States before she was born, and her mother had never been able to locate him. She had no living relatives, but seemed undaunted by her circumstances, and was certain that she would have a career as an actress one day. He couldn’t help but admire her courage. She was the strongest, bravest, most beautiful girl he had ever met. She went to bed with him the second time he walked her home, and he was even more bewitched by her after that. He gave her a small gold bracelet with a heart on a thin chain when he left, and he was haunted by her when he got back to New York. He couldn’t get her out of his head. All the women he’d known paled in comparison to her. He had never been in love before and thought he was now. Just thinking about her was exquisite torture, and he longed to make love to her again.
Brandon’s father had died in the Pacific during the war, and his mother had died when he was in college. His grandparents had died long before. His father had been from a family with money. They were not enormously rich, but they were comfortable, and he had left his widow and only son enough money to live well on. He was from an old, respected family whose fortune had dwindled slowly over time, but there was still enough left for his widow and son to live in a decent neighborhood in a nice apartment in the East Eighties in New York, and for Brandon to get a good education at Columbia, and go to business school after that.
Brandon had made some wise investments, and had a strong entrepreneurial streak. He invested in a plastics company that did well in the ’60s. By the time he met Fabienne in Paris in 1970, he was making a considerable amount of money and living well. He was ambitious and intended to make a lot more. He had recently invested in a second company that had made a ridiculous amount of money on the hula hoop. It had been patented seven years before, and he had purchased a large share of the company that produced it. The hula hoop was cheap to make and had become an enormous fad, and had already made the company a lot of money. Investing in the company seven years later made Brandon a lot of money too, with their newest products and his other investments. He had a good head for business, and an instinct for what would sell, and what people wanted. He hadn’t made a single investment mistake so far.