Elena loved her mother’s accent, loved the lyrical beauty of it, loved how gentle Marguerite always sounded. She tried to speak that way sometimes, but her accent was plain old American, her voice that of a child, not Marguerite’s husky gentleness. Now her mother laughed. “You are smart, my baby.”
Smiles filled her insides. “Can I see the photo?” Elena asked, excited to know something about her grandmother.
Marguerite’s smile was soft, a little sad again. “It was lost in a fire that burned my apartment building not long before I met your papa.” She moved the scissors with a graceful hand, the fabric falling cleanly away on either side.
Belle was going to wear the skirt with a white shirt she’d got for Christmas. Elena had helped pick the shirt and her papa had bought it. It made her happy her big sister liked it so much.
“Oh,” she said, really sad for her mama that she didn’t have a picture of her own mama. “Do you remember the photo?”
“Oui, of course.” Sparkly eyes met Elena’s, so much delight in them that she felt as if the bubbles of happiness would lift her right up.
Her mother was full of sparkles, full of happiness. When Elena was around her, she just wanted to dance, wanted to laugh. Clapping her hands today, she held out her arms. Marguerite laughed and came over to lift her up and smack a kiss on her mouth. “You are a petite monkey, Elena,” she said when Elena wrapped her arms and legs around her and refused to let go.
Then Beth got up on her plump little legs, held up her own arms.
“I think this little bébé wants a kiss, too.” Going down to the blanket after Elena released her, Marguerite picked up Beth and sat with her in her lap.
Elena took a cross-legged position across from her and made funny faces at Beth.
Her baby sister giggled, tiny hands pressed to her mouth.
“When I see you, Elena, I see my mother,” Marguerite said. “The same hair”—she ran the strands through the fingers of one hand—“the same kind of bones in the face, the same smile.” A deep smile of her own, though the sparkles were gone. “You carry my Jeffrey in you, too. His expression, so serious at times.”
Laughter again, bubbling out of Marguerite as if it simply could not be contained. “I had to teach your papa to laugh, chérie. He was such a solemn man when I met him—but I could see the goodness in his heart, and I knew he was mine, this quiet American who sat in one corner of the café where I waitressed.”
A secret light in her face that made Elena want to smile, too, this story one of her favorites to hear her mother tell. “He never ordered anything until I came to take his order, your papa. It used to annoy the other waitstaff until they decided to find it romantic, and then of course, it was all right. A man can be foolish in Paris if he is being romantic also.”
Elena didn’t quite understand all of what her mother was telling her, but she could feel the joy radiating through her mother’s words and that was enough. “What did Papa order?”
“Always the same.” Marguerite shook her head, putting Beth back down on the blanket when she started to wriggle. “A black coffee and toast.” She threw up her hands. “I started ignoring him and bringing him whatever I felt like. Croissants fresh from the oven, eggs so exquisitely flavored, bacon smoked with apples, special cereals that we created fresh every morning. And he ate each thing.”
Marguerite laughed. “Until one day, he ordered for two—black coffee and a frothy chocolat with hazelnut. My favorite, you see.”
Her mother cupped Elena’s face in her hands, her expression oddly solemn all at once. “I remember—in the photograph, my mother is holding me and I’m a bébé wrapped up in a soft blanket.” A sudden frown between her eyebrows. “There was a mark on one edge, azeeztee. A monogram it is called in English, I think: M.E.” A sudden smile. “So perhaps my last name was an E word.”
* * *
They’d had so much fun coming up with possible last names that started with E. At the time, Elena had thought it the best day ever, but there had been other days as wonderful.
Marguerite had been a dazzling butterfly who loved pretty clothes, coffee dates with friends, and going out to dance with her husband, but she’d also been an affectionate, loving mother. For all her interests and wide circle of friends, her husband and children had been the center of her existence.
“M.E.,” she murmured to Raphael, her heart trying to hold on to the echo of those bubbles of joy. “I have initials to explore as well as just the unique nature of my grandmother’s looks.”
“You may be in luck,” her archangel said. “The Luminata, when they aren’t engaged in the quest for luminescence, seek to gather wisdom, so you may discover something in their archives. And your bloodline does have a vampire in it somewhere. Perhaps it was in the time of your grandmother.”
It still sent a shiver up Elena’s spine to know she had a vampire relative; Raphael had scented power in the blood that had soaked into the quilt Marguerite had lovingly sewn for her daughter, the kind of power that wasn’t a mortal thing. That blood had been mere drops from where her mother had pricked herself while sewing, but it had carried enough strength to hum to Raphael’s senses.
“Weird to think that one of my ancestors might still be out there, living their life.”
Raphael shook his head. “A vampire strong enough to have sired a bloodline that carried a certain level of power through time wouldn’t normally drop all contact with those he sired. But of course, there are always exceptions.”