Behind the Mask
by Marianne Petit
Genre: Historical Romance
Author Marianne Petit mixes true life experiences with fiction to create a suspenseful tale of intrigue and romance set in the early days of war-torn France.
In 1940’s Paris, both rich and poor are thrust together, a mixed society struggling to survive. American born Yvette Matikunas, one of the privileged few, goes underground with a deathbed promise to her grandfather that has her roaming the streets of France with a dangerous message. She quickly learns that no one is who they seem to be and trust is a thing of the past.
Injured in battle while trying to save the life of one of his men, Colonial André Rinaldo is disillusioned by a shell-shocked country and a weak government. Persuaded to go underground and unite his fellow compatriots by forming resistance groups, he meets a beautiful blonde, whose determination to free France from foreign dictatorship is as strong as his.
In the middle of espionage and clandestine rendezvous, they form a partnership that deepens under the ever-present threat of arrest. But with America’s interest in the war building in the background all Americans are ordered to leave.
Will Yvette return to the States, or will André persuade her to stay and fight for love?
The train slowed as it approached the station. On the platform, German soldiers stood at attention. As they boarded the train, people shuffled through their belongings for their documents. A hush settled over the compartment in anticipation.
Yvette’s proof of citizenship shook in her fingers. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and dropped her hand in her lap.
Pierre, her canary, was quiet; thank the dear lord, for her nerves were taut enough without his high-pitched chirping. The last thing she needed was for him to draw attention. The last thing she needed was to have someone find Grandpère’s message hidden in the bottom of the cage. The words, written with a shaky hand, made no sense. The grapes are rotting on the vine. It’s time to bring them in. The wine is ripe. But her grandpère’s warning was embedded in her brain. Trust no one. Whatever cryptic message lay hidden under the paper, put her in danger.
The compartment door slid open and Yvette’s heart skipped a beat.
Two soldiers stood in the corridor. One man, decorated with metals that would way down a rock, appeared to be the superior. He had a wide pronounced brow. His chin melted into his neck and his short-cropped silver hair seemed plastered to his head. A long gray mustache turned slightly down over a frown.
Yvette’s gaze slid past the elderly man to the light-haired soldier who studied her with intense blue eyes. Broad-shouldered, about six two, lean and muscular, he dominated the small doorway. His countenance rigid, like one accustomed to enduring the routine of war, he stood at attention, his eyes assessing everyone and everything.
His superior entered the compartment with an air of bitter disgust. The routine common place everyone held out their traveling papers. Her heart pounding, Yvette waited and hoped her American papers would be of no interest to them.The interrogation began in German and she didn’t respond, which brought a heated tone to the superior’s voice. He snapped something to the soldier who stood silently at the door. The younger man stepped forward, his gait like one of the wooden soldiers from the Laurel and Hardy movie Babes in Toyland.
“My commandant wants to know what kind of name Matikunas is,” he said in French.
Her father’s name was Lithuanian, a country annexed by Nazi Germany and placed under German civil administration. The Poles, especially the elite, became subject to mass murder. Was he fishing to see if she was Polish?
“I am an American,” Yvette insisted without further commentary.
Her remark brought a scowl to the commander’s face. He pointed to her birdcage and Yvette’s pulse leapt. When he ripped off the cloth cover, the startled bird darted back and forth in the cage. Pierre’s loud chirp filled the compartment. The German opened the door and stuck his hand inside.
“How dare you,” Yvette spat, in English, knowing he could not understand her. She did not care. “I hope he bites you.” He turned a sinister look upon her, and her body tightened.
The nervous bird hopped from one perch to the other.
The German began to peel up the newspaper lining the bottom of the cage.
Color drained from Yvette’s face. If he finds the note…dear Lord…what will he do? Her teeth cut into her lip. She had heard horror stories of people brutalized, thrown in prison for far less. Grandpère’s death flashed before her eyes. Thinking about the possibilities brought a cold sweat to her brow. Calm down, she told herself. Breathe. Breathe. The German’s fingers were inches away from discovering the hidden message.
Yvette held her breath…
…and Pierre pooped on his hand.
The scene played out in a comic rush. Red-faced, swearing, or so she guessed, the German pulled out his hand and snatched a handkerchief from the breast pocket of the gentleman sitting opposite her, who, in French, called him a German pig.
Yvette suppressed a grin.
Pierre broke out in song.
The commander spun on his heel. He said something to the handsome soldier in the corridor, stomped outside, then slammed open the next compartment.
The train whistle blew and the clanking of wheels, picking up speed vibrated throughout the compartment.
The soldier, who had stood at attention, strode in.
A jolt of fear attacked Yvette’s chest, yet she was struck by the strong sensual lines of his face. A muscle clenched in his narrow jaw. Eyes, like chips of glacial ice, hard and sharp, stared at her. This man seemed far more dangerous than his superior on so many levels.
He stepped up to her seat and bent before her, his face inches from hers. “You are either one brave or lucky woman,” he whispered in English.
He’d understood her! She froze.
Despite the dangerous situation, she was keenly aware of his vitality, of the waves in his sandy hair and his wide forehead. Her senses leapt to life by the warm breath near her ear and the clean scent of freshly washed hair. She felt as though they were the only two people in the small room. As though they shared, a private moment meant for lovers. Her hands trembled.
Before she could respond, he continued. “Lucky for you that bird did not bite him.” The threat had an odd lilt, its tone almost amused. He straightened and stood over her. Whatever compassion she thought she sensed disappeared behind a mask of indifference. “My commander is not happy,” he said in French. “He has instructed me to find out why an unchaperoned woman of your age, I surmise you are about nineteen, is traveling alone. He believes you pose a threat. Would you care to explain?” His voice took on an air of superiority.
“I am quite adept at taking care of myself and I’m twenty-one.”
“Get up,” he ordered. “Gather your things.”
Her heart fluttered wildly in her chest. Her legs refused to move.
He grabbed her arm. “Now.” He yanked her from her seat.
No one in the compartment made a move to help and she understood their fear.
Marianne Petit is a past President of the Long Island Chapter of the Romance Writers Of America. Her love of writing stems back to high school. She spent hours reading Nancy Drew, Alfred Hitchcock and poetry. At the age of fifteen she wrote a short story for children, as well as numerous works of poetry. Her love of history stems from her father, Roger, a Frenchman, whose love of American history greatly influenced her writing interests .
She is a past President of the Melville Lions club, a service organization that raises money for the less fortunate – especially the sight and hearing impaired.
Newsday and several local newspapers have written articles on Ms. Petit and she was recently interviewed on TV for her time travel.
Marianne loves to ski, white water raft, horseback ride, and enjoys the theater. She lives on Long Island is happily married for over 30 years.