Nestled within Paris’ historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.
So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’ most famous courtesans.
Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny.  It’s a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.

My Review

I am a fan of this author. I have enjoyed reading her books for years. This new series is great. Although, I have not read the first book, The Witch of Painted Sorrows. I did not feel like I missed anything by not having read the first book, yet I want to go back and read it after finishing this one.

I was instantly drawn to Opal and her talent to create beautiful talisman where she is able to communicate with the dead. Besides this, I was really drawn to the story as a whole. With the time period and Opal's attraction to one particular talisman. Opal may not have a voice that speaks loud but when she does talk, she is to be heard. The ending was a great one. I finished this book in a few short hours. The Secret Language of Stones is a beautiful journey in time that you won't want to miss.


Chapter 1
July 19, 1918
Are you Opaline?” the woman asked before she even stepped all the way into the workshop. From the anxious and distraught tone of her voice, I guessed she hadnt come to talk about commissioning a bracelet for her aunt or having her daughters pearls restrung.
Though not a soldier, this woman was one of the Great Wars wounded, here to engage in the dark arts in the hopes of finding sol- ace. Was it her son or her brother, husband, or lovers fate that drove her to seek me out?
France had lost more than one million men, and there were battles yet to be fought. Wed suffered the second largest loss of any country in any war in history. No one in Paris remained untouched by tragedy.
What a terrible four years wed endured. The Germans had placed La Grosse Bertha, a huge cannon, on the border between Picardy and Champagne. More powerful than any weapon ever built, she proved able to send shells 120 kilometers and reach us in Paris.
Since the war began, Bertha had shot more than 325 shells into our city. By the summer of 1918, two hundred civilians had died, and almost a thousand more were hurt. We lived in a state of anticipa-

6                                                M. J. Rose
tion and readiness. We were on the front too, as much at risk as our soldiers.
The last four months had been devastating. On March 11, the Vincennes Cemetery in the eastern inner suburbs was hit and hun- dreds of families lost their dead all over again when marble tombs and granite gravestones shattered. Bombs continued falling into the night. Buildings all over the city were demolished; craters appeared in the streets.
Three weeks later, more devastation. The worst Paris had suf- fered yet. On Good Friday, during a mass at the Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais Church, a shell hit and the whole roof collapsed on the congregation. Eighty-eight  people were killed; another sixty- eight were wounded. And all over Paris many, many more suffered psychological damage. We became more worried, ever more af raid. What was next? When would it happen? We couldnt know. All we could do was wait.
In April there were more shellings. And again in May. One hit a hotel in the 13th arrondissement, and because Berthas visits were silent, without warning, sleeping guests were killed in their beds.
By the middle of July, there was still no end in sight.
That warm afternoon, while the rain drizzled down, I steeled myself for the expression of grief to match what Id  heard in the customers voice. I shut off my soldering machine and put my work aside before I looked up.
Turning soldiers’ wristwatches into trench watches is how I have been contributing  to the  war effort since arriving in Paris three years ago. History repeats itself, they say, and in my case its true. In
1894, my mother ran away from her first husband in New York City and came to Paris. And twenty-one years later, I ran away from my mother in Cannes and came to Paris.
In trying to protect me from the encroaching war and to distract me from the malaise Id been suffering since my closest friend had been killed, my parents decided to send me to America. No amount

The Secret Language of Stones                               7
of protest, tantrums, bargaining, or begging would change their minds. They were shipping me off to live with family in Boston and to study at Radcliffe, where my uncle taught history.
At ten AM  on Wednesday, February 11, 1915 my parents and I arrived at the dock in Cherbourg. French ocean liners had all been acquisitioned for the war, so I was booked on the USMS New York to travel across the sea. A frenetic scene greeted me. Most of the travelers were leaving France out of fear, and the atmosphere was thick with sadness and worry. Faces were drawn, eyes red with crying, as we pre- pared to board the big hulking ship waiting to transport us away from the terrible war that claimed more and more lives every day.
While my father arranged for a porter to carry my trunk, my mother handed me a last-minute gift, a book from the feel of it, then took me in her arms to kiss me good-bye. I breathed in her familiar scent, knowing it might be a long time until I smelled that particular mixture of L’Etoiles Rouge perfume and the Roger et Gallet poudre de riz she always used to dust her face and décolletage. As she held me and pressed her crimson-stained lips to my cheek, I reached up behind her and carefully unhooked one of the half dozen ropes of cabochon ruby beads slung around her neck.
I let the necklace slip inside my glove, the stones warm as they slid down and settled into my cupped palm.
My mother often told me the story about how, in Paris in 1894, soon after shed arrived and theyd met, my father helped her secretly pawn some of her grandmothers treasures to buy art supplies so she could attend École des Beaux-Arts.
Knowing I too might need extra money, I decided to avail my- self of some insurance. My mother owned so many strands of those blood-red beads, certainly my transgression would go unnoticed for a long time.
Disentangling herself, my mother dabbed at her eyes with a black handkerchief trimmed in red lace. Like the rubies she always wore, her handkerchiefs were one of her trademarks. Her many eccentrici-

8                                           M. J. Rose
ties exacerbated the legends swirling around “La Belle Lune, as the press called her.
Mon chou, I will miss you. Write often and dont get into trouble. Its one thing to break my rules, but listen to your aunt Laura. All right?”
When my fathers turn came, he took me in his arms and exacted another kind of promise. You will stay safe, yes? He let go, but only for a moment before pulling me back to plant another kiss on the top of my head and add a coda to his good-bye. Stay safe, he repeated, and please, forgive yourself for what happened with Timur. You couldnt know what the future would bring. Enjoy your adventure, chérie.”
I nodded as tears tickled my eyes. Always sensitive to me, my father knew how much my guilt weighed on me. My charming and handsome papa always found just the right words to say to me to make me feel special. I didnt care that I was about to deceive my mother, but I hated that I was going to disappoint my father.
During the winters of 1913 and 1914, my parents’ friends’ son Timur Orloff lived with us in Cannes. He ran a small boutique inside the Carlton Hotel, where, in high season, the hotel rented out space to a select few high-end retailers in order to cater to the celebrities, royalty, and nobility who flocked to the Riviera.
Our  families first met when Anna  Orloff bought  one of my mothers paintings, and Monsieur Orloff hired my father to design his jewelry store in Paris. A friendship developed that eventually led to my parents offering to house Timur. We quickly became the best of friends, sharing a passion for art and a love of design.
Creating jewelry had been my obsession ever since Id found my first piece of emerald sea glass at the beach and tried to use string and glue to fashion it into a ring. My father declared jewelry design the perfect profession for the child of a painter and an architect—an ideal way to marry the sense of color and light Id inherited from my mother and the ability to visualize and design in three dimensions that Id inherited from him.

The Secret Language of Stones                               9
My mother was disappointed I wasnt following in her footsteps and studying painting but agreed jewelry design offered a fine alter- native. I knew my choice appealed to the rebel in her. The field hadnt yet welcomed women, and my mother, who had broken down quite a few barriers as a female artist and eschewed convention as much as plain white handkerchiefs, was pleased that, like her, I would be challenging the status quo.
When Id graduated lycée, I convinced my parents to let me ap- prentice with a local jeweler, and Timur often stopped by Rouchers shop at the end of the day to collect me and walk me home.
Given our ages, his twenty to my seventeen, it wasnt surprising our closeness turned physical, and we spent many hours hiding in the shadows of the rocks on the beach as twilight deepened, kissing and exploring each others body. The heady intimacy was exciting. The passion, transforming. My sense of taste became exaggerated. My sense of smell became more attenuated. The stones I worked with in the shop began to shimmer with a deeper intensity, and my ability to hear their music became fine-tuned.
The changes were as frightening as they were exhilarating. As the passions increased my powers, I worried I was becoming like my mother. And yet my fear didnt make me turn from Timur. The plea- sure was too great. My attraction was fueled by curiosity rather than love. Not so for him. And even though I knew Timur was a romantic, I never guessed at the depths of what he felt.
War broke out during the summer of 1914, and in October, Timur wrote he was leaving for the front to fight for France. Just two weeks after hed left, I received a poetic letter filled with longing.
Dearest Opaline,
We never talked about what we mean to each other before I left and I find myself in this miserable place, with so little  comfort and so much uncertainty.  Not the least of which is how you feel about

10                                         M. J. Rose
me. I close my eyes and you are there. I think of the past two years and all my important  memories include you. I imagine tomorrows memories and want to share those with you as well. Here where its bleak and barren, thoughts of you keep my heart warm. Do you love me the way I love you? No, I dont think so, not yet . . . but might you? All I ask is please, dont fall in love with anyone else while I am gone. Tell me you will wait for me, at least just to give me a chance?
Id been made uncomfortable by his admission. Handsome and talented, hed treated me as if I were one of the fine gems he sold. Id enjoyed his attention and affection, but I didnt think I was in love. Not the way I imagined love.
And so I wrote a flippant response. Teasing him the way I always did, I accused him of allowing the war to turn him into even more of a romantic. I shouldnt  have. Instead, I should have given him the promise he asked for. Once he came back, I could have set him straight. Then at least, while he remained away, he would have had hope.
Instead, hed died with only my mockery ringing in his head.
My father was right: I couldnt have known the future. But I still couldnt excuse myself for my thoughtless past.
The USMS New Yorks sonorous horn blasted three times, and all around us people said their last good-byes. Reluctantly, my father let go of me.
Id like you to leave once Im on board, I told my parents. Oth- erwise, Ill stand there watching you and Ill start to cry.
Agreed, my father said. It would be too hard for us as well.Once Id  walked up the gangplank and joined the other pas-
sengers at the railing, I searched the crowd, found my parents, and waved.
My mother fluttered her handkerchief. My father blew me a kiss. Then, as promised, they turned and began to walk away. The moment

The Secret Language of Stones                             11
their backs were to me, I ran from the railing, found a porter, pressed some francs into his hand, and asked him to take my luggage from the hold and see me to a taxi.
I would not be sailing to America. I was traveling on a train to Paris. Once ensconced in the cab, I told the driver to transport me to the station. After maneuvering out of the parking space, he joined the crush of cars leaving the port. Moving at a snails pace, we drove right past my parents, who were strolling back to the hotel where wed stayed the night before.
Sliding down in my seat, I hoped they wouldnt see me, but Id underestimated my mothers keen eye.
“Opaline? Opaline?”
Hearing her shout, I rose and peeked out the window. For a mo- ment, they just stood frozen, shocked expressions on their faces. Then my father broke into a run.
Hurry!” I called out to the driver. Please.
At first I thought my father might catch up to the car, but the traffic cleared and my driver accelerated. As we sped away, I saw my father come to a stop and just stand in the road, cars zigzagging all around him as he tried to catch his breath and make sense of what hed just seen.
Just as we turned the corner, my mother reached his side. He took her arm. I saw an expression of resignation settle on his face. Anger animated hers. I think she knew exactly where I was going. Not be- cause she was clairvoyant, which she was, of course, but because we were alike in so many ways, and if history was about to repeat itself, she wanted me to learn about my powers from her.
Id been ambivalent about exploring my ability to receive mes- sages that  were inaudible and invisible to others—messages that came to me through stones—but I knew if the day came that I was ready, Id need someone other than her to guide me.
Years ago, when she was closer to my age, my mothers journey to Paris had begun with her meeting La Lune, a spirit whod kept

12                                              M. J. Rose
herself alive for almost three centuries while waiting for a descendant strong enough to host her. My mother embraced La Lunes spirit and allowed the witch to take over. But because Sandrine was my mother, I hadnt been given an option. Id been born with the witchs powers running through my veins.
Once my mother made her choice to let La Lune in, she never questioned how she used her abilities. She justified her actions as long as they were for good. Or what she believed was good. But Id seen her make decisions I thought were morally wrong. So when I was ready to learn about my own talents, I knew it had to be without my mothers influence. My journey needed to be my own.
Im sorry, but I plan to stay in Paris and work for the war effort,I told my mother when I telephoned home the following day to tell my parents Id arrived at my great-grandmothers house.
When my mother first moved to Paris, my great-grandmother tried but failed to hide the La Lune heritage f rom her. Once my mother  discovered it, Grand-mère  tried to convince my mother that learning the dark arts would be her undoing. My mother rejected her advice. When Grand-mères horror at Sandrines pos- session by La Lune was mistaken for madness, she was put in a sanatorium. Eventually my mother used magick to help restore Grand-mère  to health. Part of her healing spell slowed down my great-grandmothers aging process so in 1918, more than two de- cades later, she looked and acted like a woman in her sixties, not one approaching ninety.
Grand-mère was one of Pariss great courtesans. A leftover from the Belle Époque, she remained ensconced in her splendid mansion, still entertaining, still running her salon. Only now she employed women younger than herself to provide the services she once had performed.
But I dont want you in Paris, my mother argued. “Of all places, Opaline, Paris is the most dangerous for you to be on your own and . . .

The Secret Language of Stones                             13
The rest of her sentence was swallowed by a burst of crackling. In 1905, wed been one of the first families to have a telephone. A decade later almost all businesses and half the households in France had one, but transmission could still be spotty.
What did you say?” I asked.
Its too dangerous for you in Paris.
I didnt ask what she meant, assuming she referred to how often the Germans were bombarding Paris. But now I know she wasnt thinking of the war at all but rather of my untrained talents and the temptations and dangers awaiting me in the city where shed faced her own demons.
I didnt listen to her entreaties. No, out of a combination of guilt over Timurs death and patriotism, my mind was set. I was commit- ted to living in Paris and working for the war effort. Only cowards went to America.
Id known I couldnt drive ambulances like other girls; I was di- sastrous behind the wheel. And from having three younger siblings, I knew nursing wasnt a possibility—I couldnt abide the sight of blood whenever Delphine, Sebastian, or Jadine got a cut.
Two months after Timur died, his mother, Anna Orloff, who had been like an aunt to me since Id turned thirteen, wrote to say that, like so many French businesses, her husbands jewelry shop had lost most of its jewelers to the army. With her stepson, Grigori, and her youngest son, Leo, fighting for France, she and Monsieur needed help in the shop.
Later, Anna told me shed  sensed I needed to be with her in Paris. She had always known things about me no one else had. Like my mother, Anna was involved in the occult, one reason she had been attracted to my mothers artwork in the first place. For that alone, I should have eschewed her interest in me. After all, my mothers use of magick to cure or cause ills, attract or repel people, as well as read minds and sometimes change them, still disturbed me. Too often Id  seen her blur the line between dark and light,

14                                         M. J. Rose
pure and corrupt, with ease and without regret. That her choices disturbed me angered her.
Between her paintings, which took her away from my brother and sisters and me, and her involvement with the  dark arts, Id developed two minds about living in the occult world my mother inhabited with such ease.
Yet I was drawn to Anna for her warmth and sensitive nature— so different from my mothers elaborate and eccentric one. Because Id seen Anna be so patient with her sons’ and my siblings’ fears, I thought shed be just as patient with mine. I imagined she could be the lamp to shine a light on the darkness Id  inherited and teach me control so I wouldnt accidentally traverse the lines my mother crossed so boldly.
Undaunted, Id fled from the dock in Cherbourg to Paris, and for more than three years Id been ensconced in Orloff s gem of a store, learning from a master jeweler.
To teach me his craft, Monsieur had me work on a variety of pieces, but my main job involved soldering thin  bars of gold or silver to create cages that would guard the glass on soldiers watch faces.
To some, what I did might have seemed a paltry effort, but in the field, at the f ront, men didnt have the luxury of stopping to pull out a pocket watch, open it, and study the hour or the minute. They needed immediate information and had to wear watches on their wrists. And war isnt kind to wristwatches. A sliver of shrapnel can crack the crystal. A whack on a rock as you crawl through a dugout can shatter the face. Soldiers required timepieces they could count on to be efficient and sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of combat.
Monsieur Orloff taught me how to execute the open crosshatched grates that fit over the watch crystal through which the soldiers could read the hour and the minute. While I worked, I liked to think I projected time for them. But the thought did little to lift my spirits.




The Secret Language of Stones                             15



It was their lives that needed protecting. France had lost so many, and still the war dragged on. So as I fused the cages, I attempted to imbue the metal with an armor of protective magick. Something helpful to do with my inheritance. Something I should have known how to do. After all, I am one of the Daughters of La Lune.

But as I discovered, the magick seemed to only make its way into the lockets I designed for the wives and mothers, sisters and lovers of soldiers already killed in battle. The very word locket contains everything one needs to know about my pieces. It stems from old French loquet, which means miniature lock.Since the 1670s, locket has been used to describe a keepsake charm or brooch with a personal memento, such as a portrait or a curl of hair, sealed inside, sometimes concealed by a false front.

My lockets always contained secrets. They were made of crystal, engraved with phrases and numbers, and filled with objects that had once belonged to the deceased soldiers. Encased in gold, these talis- mans hung on chains or leather. Of all the work I did, I found that it wasnt the watches but the solace my lockets gave that proved to be my greatest gift to the war effort.

M.J. ROSE grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother's favorite books before she was allowed. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers, and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.


Popular posts from this blog

Let's Get Buck Naked!

8 Apps Every Writer Should Have

After the Rain is a good read with nice characters.