Born in pre-Revolutionary France and orphaned as a child, Justine Bodeau is taken in by a family friend who employs her as a seamstress. Eventually, she winds up to work in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette.
A strong-willed survivor, defeat does not occur to her. When she fights off an attack by an aristocrat and kills him, she is given refuge but is soon betrayed and winds up on the streets of Paris, where she is attacked and killed by rogue vampires. But for whatever reason, love will not let her die.
Justine goes from wishing to be destroyed to wanting to survive, when she feels passion for the one who brought her back, Gascoyne — the one they call the Vampire Prince of Paris.
Before the night became my one world, that of the undead—I enjoyed moonlit walks along the fragrant paths of the gardens of Versailles. Those were romantic times. I was a young lady and had one or two admirers. Whatever advice I had been given about being cautious, I remembered but I was young and foolish more than I was sensible.
There was one courtier, the Duc d’ Amont who rather had my eye. He was quite handsome, dark with smoldering good looks and the air of malice which can be so enticing to a young fool such as I.
He was always one to compliment me.
“You quite turn my head, young lady. What is your name?”
Well, that was how it started. But that was not how it ended.
“I am Justine, your Excellency.”
When he laughed I did not know why he laughed and felt my cheeks flame.
“Forgive me, sweet. But you are quite amazing. One gets tired of so much at court.”
This he said as he sniffed some snuff from a beautiful jeweled box. “Ah! That is nice. So tell me, you beautiful creature, what do you do in your spare time or do you not have any?”
“I have sir! I am treated most fairly. I could not ask for more.”
After this interlude and some others, I found the Duc’s attention growing more pronounced. When at last he tried to kiss me, he was drunk I and I was frightened.
“Propriety is foolish, Mlle., don’t you wish to know what love is? Or do you know already?”
I hurried away from him. Down the corridor I flew. I wanted to go to someone, to the queen really if I am honest. But I dared not.
So I just went to my own little room near the sewing room where I spent a sleepless night wondering what I should do. I didn’t see him for some time after that and my worry lessened, work took it away. Only an idle mind has time to worry, after all.
If one court season ended new ones began. There were always balls and engagements being planned and gowns to get ready. I was one of twenty busy seamstresses. There didn’t seem to be time for all we had to do and though we tended to work silently, we did always gossip about our lack of time to do our chores.
There were fittings for the Queen and her ladies too. I didn’t care about them; they looked as lovely as usual but she did not. I thought she was looking thinner and pale. I wanted so to offer her comfort but knew I could not. Such an action would be presumptuous.
She wasn’t as chatty with me as she had been in fact there was a marked difference in her behavior. She was more reticent. Gone was the air of happy expectation. She seemed to be sleepwalking through life.
I wondered if she knew I worried about her because of what she did. To my amazement the Queen suggested I attend the first ball of the season. She even offered me a gown, but I was too shy. I chose instead to wear something I had made for myself. It wasn’t a gown as such, it was plain; the sort of dress an ordinary person might wear on a formal occasion. Even while she complimented me, she looked distracted.
I did go to the ball. It was lovely to be able to mill around and not feel I was there as a servant. I was greeted politely by the courtiers. But then my heart nearly stopped when I saw the Duc d’ Amont staring at me.
How had I not anticipated his attending? I felt genuine fright at seeing him. Perhaps it was a sense of foreboding I had, I still cannot be sure. I only remember my feeling of disquiet.
“Ah you are vision of beauty, where others cloak themselves in jewels and finery your beauty needs no such adornment. It would be like dressing the sun up and what with your glorious red hair—you are sunlight itself!”
I nearly scoffed at what I took to be his effusive complements. Not unexpectedly he looked annoyed. If I expected him to stalk off in anger he did not. Instead he suggested I accompany him to an adjoining room. When he saw my worried expression he smiled. “I merely wish to dance with you.”
It would not have been proper for a servant to dance at the ball; attending was one thing and dancing another.
Before I could say anything, he took my hand and led me out. “I know the perfect place,” he said.
The room we went to was a waiting room of sorts for foreign envoys. It was close to the ballroom and we could hear the music.
“May I have this dance?”
I was flattered and found myself relaxing. Enjoy yourself Justine I thought. But instead of dancing, he closed the door and smiled. This was a smile I had not seen on his face before.
What followed was the beginning of the horror. Without a word, he pulled at my gown tearing it. I protested and he slapped me. I grew dizzy and passed out. When I woke I saw him looking down at me.
He laughed. “I have you now!” he cried.
I tried to shout but he hit me again. I managed to reach for a fire poker. He realized and snarled. “You’re a little fireball aren’t you?”
This said, as he tore my gown from me and launched himself at me. I would not let him take me! I begged and threatened but nothing worked.
In the excitement I had dropped the poker. However, I did manage to pick it up and hit his head with it. He looked startled—his eyes began to glaze over and when he fell hard upon me I knew he was dead.
I pushed him off and rushed to the door. I would have to escape. For I felt sure had this been discovered, even the queen would not have been able to save me.
My heart was pounding. Down the hall I rushed, until I found a door that opened onto a terrace. I expected guests to be there, many of the terraces were full of party goers, but not this particular one. Out I stepped. I looked quite a sight, my gown was torn and I knew my hair was disheveled. I paused. Where to go? It’s all well and good to try and flee but in what direction?
I thought to walk to the gates but there were guards. From the state I was in, what would they think? I’d be hauled before the head of the household staff. There was no doubt about that! That was the last thing I wanted.
Then I noticed two people walking toward me, a lady and a gentleman. I am done for I thought. So I ran without thinking, I just rushed in the opposite direction. And horror of horrors I saw I was going to crash into a man. And crash into him, I did.
“I am sorry, Monsieur. I did not mean to rush so.”
He didn’t answer right away, but took me by the arm toward the palace. “You’re not a thief are you, up to mischief or anything like that?”
I protested, I pleaded. But to no avail. Suddenly we stopped. There was enough light for him to see me. “You are a mess! What happened?”
“I was attacked…!”
“What do you mean?”
I began to stutter and found myself unable to go on.
The gentlemen reassured me. “There, there.” he said. “Calm down. Tell me are you hurt? Did someone harm you?”
“Yes! He tried…”
He was waiting for me to go on but I could not. I didn’t want to say what I had to tell him. At last I broke down. “Oh sir, I fought him as hard as I could but he beat me. And…then when he began to have his way with me, I killed him, he’s dead!”
“Dead? Are you sure?”
“Yes. He is that!”
“Do you know his name?”
“The Duc Amont!”
If I thought he would be horrified, he wasn’t. He didn’t even look surprised. “You come with me. I shall help you. I give you my word! Wait here. I will have my driver come.”
Before I could answer he put his cape around me, quite a long cloak it was too. “There, you look fine now. Wait here no one will see you and I will be right back!” He led me into the shadows. “Now wait!”
I did, sobbing as quietly as I could and shaking too. It was all so crazy; I had actually killed a man! It was not to be believed. I had killed an aristocrat! I would be thrown into prison and executed. Of that I was sure. I was one of the common people. Before I could think any more of this, he returned.
“Come,” he said. He hurried me along so quickly, I stumbled. He asked me if I could walk. I said I could.
I had the feeling he was angry, not at me but at what had happened to me. He did say something, nothing I could understand for he spoke in Italian and rapidly. I thought he was excited and upset for me, so he lapsed into his native tongue.
When he realized he stopped. “I am Italian by birth--Monsieur Oriani at your service.”
At last we came to his carriage. He helped me inside. And the carriage was off.
He was speaking a great deal. I tried so hard to listen, but I kept falling asleep. “It is alright. Just rest we will be there soon.”
I did sleep, waking only when the carriage stopped. He helped me out.
“That is it.”
I was surprised for I saw an ordinary looking house. I thought him quite important and expected to see something out of the ordinary.
“It is the home of a friend, on loan to me.” He said. “I will tend to your wounds after I light a fire.”
He made poultices of evil smelling concoctions. “This will help the healing and prevent infection…”
I had deep scratches. They stung and the cool mixture, though it chilled me at first, did ease the pain—still I hardly cared, for I was barely awake. In fact he said I slept nearly two days.
When I woke he gave me broth to drink. It was thin and not at all nice. “I found a cooked chicken in the larder and I have made the broth from it. Please, it is good for you.”
I took it and under his encouraging stare, I sipped it to his satisfaction. I think those were the beginnings of the tenderness I felt.
We didn’t discuss what had occurred. If I thought he’d ask me about myself he did not. Instead he spoke of mundane things to distract me.
I realized I quite liked him; his handsome features and his voice. It was rich sounding and educated.
Time passed strangely through dreams and shadows. I had the sense he was there and then he wasn’t. The dreams stopped but the shadows lasted quite a long time. I was only aware of light and dark and his gentle voice asking me how I was.
When the shadows receded and I was alert he asked me what I was going to do.
“You must have a plan. There is danger everywhere. If others do not understand the danger they are in, they soon will.”
I asked him if he meant the King and Queen. He said he did. “Day by day the people grow more angry. There have already begun to be arrests and there is the talk of more, much more. You can stay here if you like. I will have a servant stay with you and I will come by whenever I can to visit you.”
I would have preferred him to stay, but who was I to make such a suggestion?
He explained he had important business to attend to. But that he would see me often. I watched him leave and was heartsick, but true to his word he brought a servant back that very day, before night fall.
She was a sober looking woman, quite beyond middle age. She was kind and didn’t ask any questions. “Call me Anna,” she said and I did.
She realized I had many questions about her employer and she answered them but her answers only made me want to ask more questions.
In time a routine was established where Monsieur Oriani came by regularly. Anna would always leave when he did.
It was late summer. It was hard to believe that two months had passed. I had begun to wonder why he was keeping me there. Yet, I welcomed his all too brief visits.
When he came, we’d have a quiet meal Anna prepared. I had been fully recovered and was starting to wonder what I should do. Any time I broached the subject of leaving, he told me it wasn’t safe to be about. “There have been more arrests. Even those servants who worked for the palace are being scrutinized. Soon the king and queen will be put on trial.”
“Yes, but plans are being made for their exile!”
If I thought highly of him for having saved me, I regarded him now as a saint. “You are very kind.” I said.
He took my hand and kissed it. “Do not worry, my child. I will protect you.”
"TOP OF ITS GENRE!"
"TOP OF ITS GENRE!"