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The Forbidden Heart

V. C. Andrews

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  Also in the FORBIDDEN series . . .

  Forbidden Sister


  Roxy’s Story


  V. C. Andrews Books

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  Flowers in the Attic

  Petals on the Wind

  If There Be Thorns

  Seeds of Yesterday

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  Darkest Hour

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  Unfinished Symphony

  Music in the Night


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  Delia’s Crossing

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  Forbidden Sister

  Roxy’s Story

  The Forbidden Heart

  Stand-alone Novels

  My Sweet Audrina

  Into the Darkness

  Capturing Angels

  The Unwelcomed Child


  New Beginnings

  Getting to Know You

  Crossing the Seine

  Flying Too High, Melting the Wax on My Wings

  Rainbows and Promises

  Darkness Really Fears the Light

  See how Emmie’s story began in Forbidden Sister

  The tale continues in this special sneak peek of Roxy’s Story

  New Beginnings

  I don’t want to sum up my time in Paris in a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or even a book. It’s impossible to reduce any of it. Every delicious detail will remain in my memory for as long as I can remember anything about that time in my life when the whole world seemed to go inside out and back, leaving me older, wiser, and less vulnerable.

  We all have a natural resistance to growing up. We are reluctant about surrendering our childhood faiths, the comfort of make-believe, and, most of all, the irresponsibility that comes from knowing that there are always adults loving and caring for us. It’s their job to protect us while we take foolish risks, ignore rules, and challenge fate.

  When you think about it, what adult wouldn’t trade everything he or she had for an opportunity to be that lackadaisical youth who never thought about illness and age more than momentarily, that youth who lived for birthday parties and sweets, fun-park rides and scary movies, screaming happily at the top of her voice and then curling up at night in her soft, scented bed, vaguely recognizing that her mother was wiping errant strands from her forehead, kissing her cheeks, and wishing her sweet dreams?

  Take me back. Dazzle me with magic, and tell me that all that has happened to me and my family was someone else’s nightmare. Come, sunshine. Bring me a new and wonderful day.

  No, Emmie, the haunting voice in the darkness replied. That can’t be. That will never be.

  I awoke instead to another day in Paris, where I now lived with my uncle Alain and his partner, Maurice, a well-known chef in a famous Saint-Germain restaurant. My sister had brought me here on what was supposedly her holiday but was really a well-thought-out plan for me and for herself. Someone she had loved was now able to consummate their affair, and, more important, she was able to escape her life as a high-priced New York escort. She had practically sold herself into indentured servitude after our father had thrown her out of our home and family. I was too young at the time to remember the details, but I had gotten to know her, and she had taken me in after our parents had both died.

  For a while after Roxy had left me, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this, start a new life living with my uncle in France. I feared I would disappoint everyone, but my uncle and his partner opened themselves to me with such warmth and love it wasn’t possible to fail. Fate had insisted I grow up faster than most girls my age, and certainly most boys. Despite how much Uncle Alain and Maurice did for me, however, I still had to find a deeper and stronger sense of independence. One of my father’s favorite expressions haunted me: “You either sink or swim in this world.” I had visions of his father, General Wilcox, tossing him into the pool when he was just three and watching him struggle to keep afloat, his mother on the sidelines screaming, his father holding her back and then, finally satisfied with my father’s desperate effort, permitting her to scoop him up and into her arms.

  I couldn’t help but feel I had been tossed into raging waters when my parents died and my sister, after the renewal of our relationship and the close bond we had formed, left me behind to keep me from being part of the escape to her own happiness that she had to achieve. Of course, I was gra
teful I had my uncle and his partner there to scoop me up and embrace me, but that didn’t stop the tears and the fear. Who could blame me for wondering what would become of me? Where did I really belong? How would I find my identity? I dreaded the nights to come, the tossing and turning I would do in the darkness, listening to the sounds from the Paris streets, the voices, the music, and the laughter, but listening mostly for Roxy’s returning footsteps, dreaming of the bedroom door being thrown open and her standing there, smiling because we could be sisters again.

  Finally, sleep came rushing in, pushing hope back into the shadows. Whether I liked it or not, I was here. This was my now. Adjust, suck back the tears, firm up your spine, find ways to smile and laugh again, I told myself. Self-pity will eat away at your very soul and leave you standing idle and empty in some corner to be ignored, invisible and forgotten.

  Before I could catch my breath and try to make some sense of it all, Maurice had me working beside him in the restaurant. One morning, he simply insisted I come along for the day. “I’ll teach you how to be a sous chef,” he said.

  From the look on Uncle Alain’s face, I could see that he and Maurice had discussed it, probably struggling to find ways to amuse me until I started at the American School of Paris. Uncle Alain had already taken me to see the campus and go through the admissions procedures. I would go by Metro every morning. It was a very pretty campus. I was excited about it. For me, it was like starting college.

  “Work with you in the kitchen?”

  “Pourquoi pas? Who knows?” he said. “Perhaps you have the instincts to become a Cordon Bleu chef someday. You must explore yourself, Emmie. You Americans are too uptight about what’s around the corner. Think c’est la vie, and move on to something else if you have to. Who cares, eh?”

  I looked at Uncle Alain. He nodded and smiled. Then he put on a fake grouchy face and said, “If you can work beside this madman, you’re a better man than most.”

  “You’re blind, Alain. This girl will never resemble a man, good or bad,” Maurice said, and they both laughed.

  “Mais oui.” Uncle Alain paused and looked at me in a different way. It was as if he finally had realized I was more a grown woman than the young girl he had known in America and who had come over with her sophisticated, strong-willed sister, someone who could throw a protective bubble over me and keep me safe. Suddenly now, he was cast in a role he had never expected to play, as a father figure. Where I went, with whom I went, and what I did with my free time were of greater concern. That realization in his face was accompanied by parental fears.

  I wondered, What promises had he made to Roxy? What instructions had she left behind? How long had they talked about it? How long did he know her plan? Did he hesitate? What did he really think of me? Until this moment, I had not given much thought to the image of me that my sister had. I had no doubt she saw me as someone far more fragile than she had been at my age. There was irony in the fact that we were both alone by then, she by her own choice and I by the hand of fate. However, she was more prepared for it. It was in her nature not to depend on the kindness of strangers and to expect nothing, whereas I looked hopefully for someone to trust.

  “I am not afraid,” I said. “Aucune crainte. No fear.” It was something I often heard my mother chant to herself, especially after my father’s unexpected passing. “No fear, no fear.”

  Uncle Alain smiled and nodded at Maurice. “She’ll be fine,” he said. “She’s my sister’s daughter.”

  “D’accord,” Maurice said, and looked at me with confidence. “I’ll take good care of her. Don’t worry.”

  “What worry? I’m not that fragile. Don’t become two old ladies,” I told them in English and then in French. “Deux vieilles dames.” They roared with laughter.

  Gradually, I began to stop speaking English with them. I was hungry for new French words and expressions, and once Maurice’s fellow workers at the restaurant saw how serious I was about it, they had the patience to teach and practice with me.

  “Usually, the French haven’t the patience to put up with Americans mutilating the language,” Uncle Alain said when Maurice told him how well I was getting along with everyone after only two days. “They’d rather speak English with them anyway, but I can see you are winning hearts here.”

  I did make many friends at the restaurant quickly, one of whom was a waitress, Denise Ardant. A week after I had arrived, she was celebrating her twenty-second birthday, and Maurice had baked her a large tunnel of fudge cake in a Bundt cake pan. For about thirty seconds, the whole waitstaff, the manager, Noel Bocuse, and everyone in the kitchen paused to watch Denise blow out twenty-two candles. We all sang “Bon Anniversaire.” One of the waiters, Auguste Tirel, caught my attention and created laughter the moment after we sang by crying out, “Twenty-two and still a virgin! Comment triste. How sad.”

  Denise’s round, pudgy face flamed crimson. Her best feature was her almost electric blue eyes that flashed at him like two tiny firecrackers. She glanced at me, and in that moment, I saw her embarrassment and her hope that I wasn’t some very experienced young American girl, years younger but older when it came to romance, someone who would look down on her as a loser. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn she had that image of me. We had our own reputations over here thanks to American exchange students who were sexually active, used recreational drugs, and were happy to discover that the drinking age was three years younger than it was in America.

  Fear sparked beneath my breasts. I glanced at the others. What did they expect of me? In an odd way, my exposure to Roxy’s world, the world of a high-priced escort, had made me more cautious, even more prudish. What if I, too, unmarried and unattached like Denise, was still a virgin by the age of twenty-two? Would I be embarrassed? Should anyone be? I had never asked Roxy when she had lost her virginity. How young was she? Was it after she had left our family? Before? Was that another reason our father wanted her out of the house? During all the time we had spent together before coming here, she had never really come out and specifically asked me if I had lost mine.

  Of course, I wondered how Auguste knew that Denise was still a virgin. All the myths about the French paraded through my mind. Was there a special look in the face of a virgin, a look the French especially could recognize? Did all the men see that in my face? At what age did it suddenly become seriously important not to be a virgin in today’s liberal world? I knew that the age of consent was fifteen in France. A man couldn’t be prosecuted for having consensual sex with someone that age or older.

  I heard two of the waiters start an argument over whom was better to fall in love with, a virgin or an experienced woman. Didier claimed it was a waste of time to turn your girlfriend into a proper lover. He made it sound like breaking in a horse or housebreaking a dog, whereas Emile believed there was greater and more lasting love when your fiancée was pure and there only for you. Didier called him a hopeless romantic. They rattled on in French right in front of me, neither realizing that although I didn’t speak French that fluently yet, I was able to understand nearly every word.

  I wondered what Roxy would say to them if she had heard their argument. I wondered what she would say to me. I put it in my mental notebook, another question to ask her when she came back for me. Would she? Was I foolish to think so? Could I read the truth in Uncle Alain’s face whenever her name was mentioned or in the absence of any phone call, e-mail, or letter from her?

  As everyone left the kitchen, some paused to comfort Denise, telling her Auguste was an idiot but comforting her as though some weakness in her had been exposed, some unspoken truth blasted out for everyone to know, like the little boy who cried that the king was naked in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It was clear that most thought that her not having had a lover at her age was a great failing.

  I suppose what made Denise stand out more, however, was her size. Ever since I could remember, I heard ot
her women ask my mother why so few French people were fat. My mother had a svelte figure to her dying day. Her simple answer was, “We don’t snack between meals.” Because of my father’s hours at his investment firm in New York, we didn’t eat our meals on weekdays with the regularity my mother was used to when she lived in France. However, fresh fruits and vegetables were always very important to her, as they still are in most places in France, and the portions she served us for all our meals were small, even tiny, compared with the portions of food my friends had in their homes. When my father started gaining weight because of his business lunches and lack of exercise, she was even more attentive to how much and what we ate. Maurice told me, however, that the French were getting Americanized with fast food, which, as a chef, he despised.

  None of the other women working at the restaurant was nearly as overweight as Denise. She was a little less than five feet eight but surely at least twenty-five pounds too heavy. She didn’t have big breasts, but her shoulders and upper arms were somewhat manly, and her waist and hips had no suggestion of feminine curves. To me, her plump face was like a mask hiding the beauty she had once possessed. Occasionally, I saw it flashing in her soft mouth and those electric eyes.

  Although she was as pleasant as anyone else when it came to the customers, her smile blew out like a lightbulb when she turned away or entered the kitchen. She was the same the few times I had seen her in the street coming to or leaving the restaurant. She hobbled along with her head down, her arms crossed, tightly embracing herself just under her breasts. Even on sunny days, she looked as if she was racing to get out of the rain. Shadows followed her the way feral cats might trail behind someone who carried the scent of fish.

  “She has no life outside of her home and this restaurant,” Miles Goodman, a thirty-some-year-old Englishman who spoke perfect French, told me a few days before Denise’s birthday. He had come over from Guildford as an exchange student and remained, secretly hoping to be discovered as an artist. I had yet to see one of his paintings, but I understood him to be something of an abstract painter, maybe too abstract for anyone to appreciate. At least, that was what Maurice muttered about him. He was tall and slim, with a nose and ears that reminded me of Ichabod Crane’s in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He had extraordinarily long, thin fingers, which enabled him to carry ten cups at the same time easily.