Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.
In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover—the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul—who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.
A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.
As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
Praise for The Butterfly and the Violin
"In her historical series debut, Cambron expertly weaves together multiple plotlines, time lines, and perspectives to produce a poignant tale of the power of love and faith in difficult circumstances. Those interested in stories of survival and the Holocaust, such as Eli Wiesel’s Night, will want to read." —Library Journal, starred review
". . . debut novelist Cambron vividly recounts interwoven sagas of heartache and recovery through courage, love, art, and faith." —Publishers Weekly
“Fresh. Fascinating. Unforgettable. The Butterfly and the Violin is a masterpiece of a debut.” —Laura Frantz, author of Love’s Reckoning
". . . impossible to put down." —RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Stars, TOP PICK!
About the Author
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The Butterfly and the Violin
A Hidden Masterpiece Novel
By Kristy Cambron
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Kristy Cambron
All rights reserved.
Present day, New York City
Is this it?"
Sera James bounded through the front doors of the Manhattan gallery, so excited that she nearly slipped for running across the hardwood floor in her heels. She came to a flustered stop in front of the large canvas hanging on the back wall. Breathless, she asked, "You've confirmed—this is her?"
"Did you run all the way here, Sera?"
"Yes. Wouldn't you?" She wasn't ashamed to admit it. From the second she'd received the phone call, Sera had pushed and shoved her way off the subway in a frenzy and had run the eight blocks back to the gallery, dodging taxis and cracks in the sidewalks all the way.
Penny nodded. "The guys in the back just opened the crate. Can you believe it's been there for a week and we didn't even know it?"
She shook her head in disbelief. "Unfathomable."
Sera unwound the chiffon scarf from her neck and shrugged off her trench coat as she stepped away for a moment, draping them both over the antique wooden counter stretching across the back of the room. She twisted her long ebony hair and tucked it into a loose bun, then secured it atop her head with a pencil she found nearby. It wasn't until she turned back to her assistant that she noticed the girl hadn't moved an inch. Penny stood like a statue, her only movement an index finger that twirled a lock of strawberry blond hair at her nape.
Sera laughed. When her assistant took to whirling a strand of hair around her finger, something had to have completely captured her attention.
"You're doing it again, Penny."
The action was telltale. But Sera didn't blame Penny in the least. This moment was special. If the painting was what they both thought it was, standing in awe was warranted. The rest of the city could have flown by outside the front windows and neither one of them would have noticed. Or cared.
"I'm just sorry it's not the original." Penny offered Sera an envelope without looking away from the canvas. "But it is another step closer and that's what matters."
"You've inspected the borders?"
"My hands were shaking like crazy the whole time," Penny admitted, tilting her head to one side. "But yeah. Even though I knew this was paint on canvas, I still checked to be sure. The negatives are inside."
Sera opened the envelope and held the negatives up to the light. Penny was right—the painting before them was eerily similar to the one they sought. Checking the borders was the only way to distinguish the original from a copy. And if the borders didn't match, then this couldn't be the one they'd been searching for. Her heart almost sank a little before she realized that while it may not have been the portrait, it was still a portrait of her. The borders didn't matter much when those piercing eyes continued to stare out, haunting the viewer.
Sera swallowed hard, thinking how long they'd waited for the moment to arrive. She replaced the negatives in the envelope. "It may be a copy, but I still have to know. How did you find it?"
"An estate sale," Penny answered, her voice sounding almost dreamy. "Just north of San Francisco."
"And do we know for whom?"
Penny nodded again, and this time cocked an eyebrow in a curious fashion. "That's the mystery—it's some businessman. A financier in real estate. William Hanover is his name. I called his office with a basic inquiry and he contacted us back immediately. Said he was liquidating his late grandfather's estate. The name doesn't ring a bell for me at all and I've been chasing this painting for more than two years, same as you. Nobody in the art world has ever heard of him."
The name was foreign to her too. Who was this William Hanover, and how did he manage to get his hands on a painting that was a virtual copy of the one she was looking for?
"And did we make an offer?"
"Mmm-hmm. I figured you'd want to, so I made a generous one."
Penny's answer didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Sera shook her head. "Then why do you sound as if you've got some bad news for me?"
"Because he said he's not going to sell. Money isn't enough, apparently."
"But you just said it was an estate sale."
"Right," Penny cut in. "But it was a chance encounter that I found the painting on an Internet auction site. It was the image and not a bill of sale that caught my attention. I was sifting through old photographs of estate sales from last fall, jewelry and such. You know, the usual. I'd been through an exhausting file of artwork when I came across a photo of this—faded and barely noticeable in the background, behind a vase that had been highlighted for sale. But there's no doubt—it's her."
Her assistant stood back and eyed the painting, then pulled a clipboard up to her chin as if entranced by the vision of the ethereal beauty.
"It was her eyes, Sera. They pierced right through the computer screen and pulled me in, if that's possible."
"It's possible." The same thing had happened to her the first time she'd seen the painting. Only hers was a patchy memory, of an image she'd once seen as a young girl. Thinking back on it now made the moment all the more surreal.
"I spilled a whole mug of coffee down my front when I saw it on the computer screen." Penny smiled, one of those youthful, dimple-cheeked grins so characteristic of the young art student. "Remember that ivory sweater I borrowed? Hope you didn't want it back anytime soon."
"No," Sera answered honestly and, lost in thought, took a step closer to the canvas. "Forget about it. This is better."
"It is, isn't it?" They stood for a moment, speechless, transfixed by the beauty of the portrait. Penny shook her head and on a hushed breath whispered, "After all this time. She's finally here."
It had been far too long, that was for sure.
From the moment Sera had laid eyes on the work of art when she was eight years old, she'd been haunted by the otherworldly beauty. A simple three-quarter silhouette of a young woman of perhaps twenty years of age, with flawless, iridescent skin and those ever-piercing, almost animalistic blue eyes. The softness in the mouth, the sadness in the features ... the stark coldness of the shaved head, showing a young beauty who had been shorn of her crown and glory ... the tattooed numbers, shouting out from the left forearm that cradled a violin.
"So, let me get this straight." Sera stood tall in her pencil skirt and classic white oxford, with arms folded and foot tapping while she tried to work things out in her mind. "We found a painting by chance, but it's not the original. And though it happens to be an image of our long-lost girl, it's not for sale. The owner won't take money for it."
"That sums it up. I wish I could say it didn't."
Sera stood back for a moment, puzzled as to how the painting could be in her gallery under the circumstances. "So ... how did it end up here again?"
"It's been sent here on loan."
"Why on loan?" Sera leaned in, nodding at the exquisite brushstrokes.
"That's just it." Penny paused with a hitch in her voice.
With her attention piqued, Sera half turned to find Penny chewing the edge of her thumbnail. Penny furrowed her brow as if she were staring into the bright summer sunshine. Sera stood up straight then, as her hands found their way to her hips. She almost smiled at her friend's behavior.
"Penn—what on earth is the matter with you? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"He wants to talk in person." Penny looked close to cringing. "About his terms." Sera did smile then. The man had terms? "His terms for what?"
"For hiring you," Penny admitted with an almost too reluctant smile herself. "Or us, rather. He's willing to pay close to an obscene amount of money for the services of the gallery that's looking for the very same thing he is—the original painting of our girl."
"Did you explain why we're looking for the painting?"
"Yes, of course I did. I told him we had interest in acquiring Holocaust era art for the gallery, but I had to soften it a little. After all, something to the tune of 'She's been dreaming of finding this painting since she was a girl' didn't seem appropriate to confess to a complete stranger we might have to negotiate with. I mean, if he has a copy of the painting, then he may be our ticket to finding the original. I told him the truth." Penny pulled a paper free from the clipboard and handed it to her. "Enough of it, anyway, to get you an invitation and a plane ticket to the West Coast. Your flight leaves tomorrow—on his dime."
Hesitating, Sera toyed with the idea that the man could have his own agenda.
"Okay. We both know why I'm looking for the painting. But why does this William Hanover want it? Did he say?"
Penny shook her head. "I guess that's what this ticket will help us find out."
Sera reached for the ticket with trembling fingertips.
It'd been two years since her world had fallen apart, since she'd thrown herself into work and once again found herself consumed by the intrigue of the painting's mystery. She may have first learned of the painting as a girl, but her real dedication to unraveling its mystery hadn't come until she had nothing left. If finding the last piece of the puzzle meant that Sera had to work with this William Hanover, then she was game.
Thank You, Lord. The unspoken prayer somehow made her heart feel light. We're this close to finding her.
"Penny." Sera smiled. "We're finally bringing her home."CHAPTER 2
December 3, 1942 Vienna, Austria
She is in shock."
The doctor had poked his head out into the cold, looked up and down the deserted city street, then tugged her into the house. Adele heard the sound of bolts locking as he secured the door behind them. He led her into the front parlor where a faded brocade sofa sat against the back wall across from two plum-colored armchairs with sagging cushions, polished wood arms, and clawed feet. A fire crackled on the hearth.
"Here, bring her over to the fire."
He spoke to someone—she didn't know who. All she knew was that she was safe for the time being. No one had followed her. She'd looked behind her every few steps and, as a precaution, had doubled back in the shadows of several snow-covered streets before she came to the doctor's front stoop.
"What is wrong with her?" A woman's voice cracked. Adele couldn't blame her for the fear. She was scared too. Everyone in Vienna was scared. "Look at how she's shaking."
Adele's hands indeed shook.
The trembling ran from her fingertips to the crook of her elbows like she was being jolted with shots ofelectricity. Whether it was from the cold or astonishment at the events just witnessed, she couldn't know. Adele had never been in shock before. She'd never seen anyone killed. Not until tonight.
"It hurts," she managed to whisper, for she felt pain. It had been numbed, but now that she was safe, her senses had returned. An almost unbearable stinging now burned like fireplace embers had been laced beneath her skin.
"Yes, I know."
"I'm sorry, Doctor. I had nowhere else to go." He had to know something terrible had happened or she wouldn't have been pounding her bloody fist upon his door in the dead of night. Doctors were awakened at all hours, she knew. But it wasn't likely he'd been awakened like this before.
"Hush. Sit here, child," he said, and pulled a chair nearer to the fire. "You'll be warmed by the hearth."
The doctor settled her into the chair and went about issuing orders to two women who moved to stand behind him, flanking his shoulders. Adele could just make them out in the dim light of the front room; a young woman of maybe fifteen and an older woman with a severe scowl and layers of wrinkles marking her brow.
"Pull the drapes closed tight. And get her a glass of wine, please," he continued, his deep voice floating out from beneath a weighted gray mustache. "Then bring a basin of hot water, bandages, and some blankets. We must warm her up."
"But the wine is nearly gone," the young woman whispered.
"Then we should have enough for one lady who has need of it."
Adele listened to them whispering back and forth. Wine was hard to come by. They'd have been cautioned to use it most sparingly. Who knew if the war would ever end and supplies would be available again?
"I can think of no greater reason to use it up. It is for Miss Adele," he offered. "Please, Daughter, do go and get it."
The man patted her cheek and turned his attention back to the older woman who had taken to pacing about the room. She wrung her hands as she marched back and forth. She glanced over at Adele from time to time, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. She finally stopped to peek out the heavy woolen drapes, examining the darkness of the street.
"Dieter, what has happened to her?" The older woman approached and whispered low, her thick Austrian accent pronounced even though the words were hushed.
"I do not know. You heard the knock upon the door same as I did. When I opened it, I found Miss Adele shivering on our front stoop."
"Was she alone?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he gave Adele a respectful smile before turning back to the fidgeting woman. He whispered several indiscriminate words while the woman continued eyeing her.
Adele had met her before. She was the doctor's wife. Ava was her name, and though it had been several years since they'd crossed paths, her expression had not changed. The circles painted beneath her eyes matched the graying color of the hair tucked up in her faded paisley kerchief. She looked unkempt and severe, like everyone in Vienna, for years of war had taken their toll on those left in the city. But it was her haughty disapproval that Adele remembered most. Those pinched lips and that cemented scowl were as uninviting back then as they were now.
"You know who she is." She spat out the words like an accusation. "All of Vienna knows the orchestra's sweetheart. How can you think to hide her here? She will be spotted on sight. They will question why a woman such as she would be taken into our home in the state that she is."
He shook his head.
He cut into his wife's pleas with a hushed but firm reprimand.
"I cannot turn her out! This is Miss Adele. I would not send a stranger from this house, let alone the daughter of Fredrich Von Bron himself. I owe my life to the man. Have you forgotten that? He saved me in the Great War. This is his daughter and that makes her as good as family. If she needs our help, then she shall receive it without question."
"But they will come and take us away too. Your own daughter could face deportation! Do you not understand what this could mean?" The woman twisted her hands in knots as her gaze darted from her husband's face over to Adele. "She must go. Give her wine and bread and then send her away."
"No one will be deported. Go now. Please do as I've said." Dieter returned his attention to Adele's hands. The woman's heavy steps pounded the hardwood floor as she walked away.
"Adele. You are hurt." He swept a wooden stool up under him and began picking at her wool coat and woven scarf as both garments dripped stray drops of blood upon the floor. "Let us get this coat off so that I may have a look, hmm?"
Ava came back and laid a stack of bandages nearby. She didn't leave—the woman lurked back in the shadows, staying put like a ghost haunting the doorway.
"Good," he said, smiling and nodding when the coat was discarded. "Your sweater—arms and torso—there is no blood." His hands squeezed up and down her arms. "No broken bones. You're not injured anywhere else. This is good."
"My hands." Adele could say nothing else. She held out her hands to show him the cuts that continued bleeding red droplets over the light camel dress she wore.
"Yes, yes. I can see that must hurt a great deal," Dieter replied, and cradled her hands in his to dab at the wounds. "Let's see to that right now."
"The wine, Father." His daughter tapped his shoulder, then handed over a chipped tumbler that was not quite half full. She set a black medical bag at his feet.
"Here, drink." Dieter brought the glass up to Adele's lips, but she couldn't force herself to drink. It was the last thing she wanted to do. Anything she swallowed would come right back up again.
"I cannot." Adele pushed the glass away. "Please."
Dieter glanced over his shoulder as his daughter retreated to the doorway with her mother. The two looked on like nervous vultures.
Excerpted from The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron. Copyright © 2014 Kristy Cambron. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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