Fiona Hood-Stewart
Favorite Vacation Spot

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Fiona Hood-Stewart

a novel by Fiona Hood-Stewart

An Excerpt...

The library fire dwindled, embers stuttered, coals shifted and Armand de la Vallière sighed. It was his favorite room in the castle.

He sat in solitary contemplation, surrounded by leather-bound books, heavy mahogany furniture and the ancient French-damask curtains installed so many years ago by Tante Hortense, a balm to his strained nerves. He peered through the mullioned windows into the inky summer evening, vaguely aware of Penelope's voice echoing through the Great Hall. Concentrating, he leaned forward, staring once more at the packed shelves of books, eyes narrowing. It would be a difficult search, one that would require all his ability. The sheer physical impediment of having to climb up to the highest shelves made it almost impossible to take a good look at the books without attracting suspicion. He stared into the dying flames, obliterating the haunting images that lurked in his memory since childhood, replacing them instead with shining scenes of glitz, glamour and glory. It was a technique he'd perfected over the years, and infallibly it worked.

Now, as fleeting shadows played on the spines of the ancient book covers and the darkened walls, he replaced the packed shelves with visions of splendid jewels. They shimmered in his imagination, and he sighed. The method acted as effectively as any hallucinogen. Slowly his tense muscles relaxed and he breathed easier, entranced, visualizing the catwalk, the agitated buzz, models preparing to strut the runway, hairdressers, makeup artists and seamstresses, all waiting for his final orders. His fingers unclenched as he pictured himself directing operations, adding the finishing touches with a master's skill. Finally he would place each of Charlotte's exquisite pieces at precisely the right angle before sending the model forth, waiting with bated breath for the murmured hush of the crowd.

A frisson of satisfaction left him sighing. Nothing less than perfection would do. And he had seen perfection in Charlotte's work. He drew a cigarette from an antique silver cigarette case, tapped it thoughtfully on the arm of the old leather chair, then lit it. To have such amazing talent, yet be so oblivious. A quivering pang of envy darted straight to his heart. Why was life so unfair? Why did some have all the suffering, the toil, the trouble, while others glided unwittingly into fame and fortune? Indeed, why did life bestow talent on those who didn't give a damn, while denying it to those for whom it meant the world?

He took a long drag and leaned back in the deep armchair, aware there was little to be gained from such thoughts. It was too late to acquire that which God had not given him.

Still, he decided with a grim little smile, it might not be too late to redirect fate into avenues more suited to his liking. After all, there was a reason for his presence here, at this specific time.

Once more he inhaled deeply, then let the smoke curl up toward the coffered oak ceiling and shut his eyes. He was so close. So very close. And nothing would convince him otherwise.

* * *

MIRA Books, March 2003
ISBN 1-55166-670-7

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