I'm wicked sorry for the seven month hiatus. By the time I was done with school work and work-work (having two jobs sucks), I was just drained of any and all inspiration. You can thank Die Mannschaft for giving me the kick I needed to get back into this story. Something about watching the rippling thighs of young German men chasing after balls (and Manuel Neuer's sweet ass) just inspires me to no end. So here you have it: Chapter 7

Adrienne did not show up at Isabelle's party that night. Nor did she show up for work the next day or any day for the next two weeks. At first it was rather pleasant not having her around to run her mouth, but it wasn't long until the workload began piling up, Katie and Marie would have given anything to have her back. But she was not in work any of the days leading up to Christmas Eve. Sophie Levesque kept her shop open as often as she could, meaning while she and the rest of the family spent time enjoying the holidays, Marie and Katie were stuck at the shop. To make matters worse, there were few customers, as would be expected on a holiday. Not that few people came to the store; plenty of boys braved the snow and cold to come by and drop off small presents, mainly for Marie.

"Joyeux Noël, Marie." Tristan Renoir, one of the blonde's neighbors, said as he handed her a brightly wrapped gift. Marie had only spoken to him a few times, but she thanked him anyway. He smiled widely at her before leaving.

"Who was that?" She asked. Katie shrugged. She loved her cousin, but it was a bit irritating. While all the local boys their age, even those who had only stammered out a salutation once or twice, were giving Marie gifts, so far Katie had received two presents from men nearing the end of their middle age, both of them had groped her when their wives were not looking at least once in the two years she had been working in the boutique.

That was how things had gone since she came to Paris; aging men and cads made up the majority of those who flirted with her. Much to her dismay, she had attracted more attention from Germans during the occupation than she had in the three years since coming to Paris. Back at her home by the sea she would lay on the beach while suntanned older boys made advances towards her when her brothers and father were away. In Paris her then fourteen year old cousin had already established herself as the belle of the neighborhood. Katie was still attractive enough, but the Irish features she inherited from her father were not as flattering as Marie's delicate, aristocratic ones. It had to be worse for Adrienne, who if not for her sister, and tempestuous disposition, would likely be one of the great beauties of Paris.

"How much longer until we can leave?" The brunette asked impatiently as she adjusted the hem of a dress. While boys had been coming in and out of the store all morning, they had had exactly four customers, three last minute pick-ups and one drop-off that wasn't due to be picked up until after the holiday.

"It's only a quarter to noon." Marie replied. Katie groaned and pressed her forehead to her knees. Just over another three hours until they could return to their homes and get ready for the Yuletide festivities. They were the one of the only, if not the only, place open and it was doubtful that anyone would leave their toasty homes to drop off a dress that needed to be taken in, or pants which required mending.

Just when Katie thought things could not get worse, unless of course time began going backwards, the bell on the door tinkled softly and a small group of German soldiers walked in. She groaned again and begrudgingly put on as pleasant face she could as she passed through the curtain that separated the workspace form the rest of the store.

"Joyeux Noël, Messieurs," she greeted politely. The soldiers were all around her age, a few may have been younger. One, clearly the leader, leaned against the counter and grinned at her with a wolfishness that would put Kasimir Faust to shame.

"Joyeux Noël, ma minette." He replied. "You look tired, did someone wear you out?"

"Just work, monsieur," she told him. She struggled to control herself for if this soldier did not have the authority to do whatever the hell he wanted, she would have gladly slapped him across the face for his impertinence. The leader was apparently the only French speaker among the group as he translated to his friends, who laughed.

"Really, minette?Just work?"

"Yes," she replied through gritted teeth. "Just work."

"What is your name, minette?" Katie glared at him as she dug her identification papers out of her pocket and all but threw them at him. He smirked and opened the small booklet.

"Katherine Byr-Birn-Birna?" He struggled to read.

"Byrne." Katie corrected, smirking. "My father is Irish. Now, if you have nothing that requires mending, I really must get back to work." The lead soldier recovered from his slight blunder and smiled widely.

"I do, mademoiselle. Come around and I'll show you." The brunette sighed and begrudgingly obliged. "It's my trousers, they fit well enough but these buttons just have a habit of coming loose. See for yourself."

If not for the tinkling of the bell above the door Katie would have hit the man, who despite his patronizing tone could not have been more than a year or two older than her.

"Oberscharführer," the patron said, causing the leader to jump and spin around at once. He saluted quickly.

"Haupsturmfüher, Ich dachte, du erhalten hätte Urlaub zu Weihnachten-" (Captain, I though you had been given furlough for Christmas) He stammered. Katie stood on her toes to see past the hats of the other soldiers and scoffed slightly when she saw who had reduced the senior squad leader to stumble over the words that had been flowing out so smoothly only moments before.

"Offensichtlich Sie waren falsch." Ludo stated. "Wenn Sie fertig sind, stört diese Frau, schlage ich dich verlassen. Jetzt." (Obviously you were incorrect. If you are finished bothering this woman, I suggest you leave. Now.)

The soldiers saluted once more before hurrying out the door, the bell chiming as they left. A smile brightened Ludo's face as he approached Katie, his hands behind his back. She knew she should thank him, and part of her wanted to, but then again, he was still one of them, so she simply cast him a half-hearted lower.

"Happy Christmas, Katie." He said, producing a pair of boxes. Katie's face softened, and she happily accepted his offering. She didn't care what her grandmother or anyone said. She had spent the day almost completely unnoticed; she was willing to accept gifts from just about anyone who offered.

"And to think I was worried you would refuse to take it." He laughed as she quickly opened the smaller box and began sifting through the tissue paper for her gift. She removed a stuffed bear made of soft, dark brown mohair with gleaming glass eyes and a small button in its ear. "That's for your sister. I called in a favor from a friend in Heidenheim for it."

"I'm sure she'll love it." Katie told him, regretting the less than appreciative greeting she had given him. She placed the box, which was heavier than she had expected, on the counter and removed the lid. Nestled at the bottom was a sleeping kitten, a red silk bow tied around her neck. At the sight of the fluffy fur and little pink nose she forgot her contempt for the soldier and lifted the creature up, kissing the top of her head. She thanked him profusely as the kitten mewed softly, earning loving coos from her new mistress.

"I hoped you would like her, I found her hiding in a barn the other day and she could certainly use a good home." Katie smiled and caught up in the moment, hugged the soldier in thanks, taking them both by surprise. She pulled away quickly, her cheeks slightly pink. She returned her attention to the kitten that had began crawling up her blouse, intrigued by her earrings, a gift she had received from her mother years earlier.

"What a little darling," she crooned. "What am I going to call you?"

The kitten reached up a tiny paw up to toy with the teardrop earrings. Katie smiled and rubbed her nose against the kitten's tiny pink one. "Bijou," she cooed.

"Bijou?" Ludo repeated.

"That's what I'll call her," Katie told him as cuddled the little cat in her arms. "My little Bijou."

"I see I was right in giving her to you," Ludo said, reaching forward to gently scratch the kitten's ear with his finger. "If you refused her she would have been left to the mercy of Sturmbannführer Ritter's little terrors."

"I'm happy to help her," she kissed the top of her new pet's head. "Where is your friend?"

"Probably still trying to find flowers, I tried to convince him that he'll never find any in late December, but there's no reasoning with him sometimes. He should be here any- ah! Speak of the devil."

Faust entered the shop with a wide smile on his face. "Is Marie here?" He asked. Ludo nudged him. "Oh- happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, she's in the back." Katie called to her cousin. The blonde stepped out and immediately regretted it. She dragged her feet to the counter and forced a smile.

"Happy Christmas," he said, placing a long black box on the counter. Marie looked up at him confused. "Take it, it's for you."

"Merci," she said, begrudgingly accepting the gift.

"Go on, open it." Faust told her, his grin widening. Marie's eyes widened when she saw what was lying on the velvet pillow. It was a pale gold necklace with delicate gold leaves and pearl flowers. She had not seen anything as lavish since the war broke out. "Do you like it?"

"I-I can't accept this." She said as she pushed the box over to him. "It's beautiful, but-"

"But what?" Faust asked, his face never falling as he pushed it back to her. "It's yours, it was meant to be."

"Really I-"

"I won't take 'no' for an answer." Faust told her. "By direct order of the Gestapo, I require you to keep and love this as much as I know you would like to."

Marie could not even attempt a smile. His mentioning of the Gestapo only worsened the guilt she felt accepting gifts from him.

"Thank you," she said finally as she reluctantly took the necklace from the counter. Faust's grin widened.

"So at what time do the shackles come off?" He asked. "Surely you ladies can't be confined here for much longer."

"We're supposed to stay here until three o'clock." Katie replied.

"And is someone coming to check up on you at any point before then?" The cousins shook their heads.

"We can't leave, grand-mère would be furious." Marie said quickly.

"And besides, I'd have to drop Bijou off at home and grand-mère would certainly find out." Katie added. Ludo cast the brunette a half smile and shrugged.

"I suppose the two of you must have plenty of work to do this time of year anyway. I'm surprised the store is this quiet right now." He said. "Well I can tell you ladies are devoted to your work. Come along, Kas. There's no use pestering them when they are clearly occupied."

Katie cast a glance to her cousin and her growing pile of gifts. Maybe she was selfish and a bit jealous, but above all she was bored out of her mind and another three hours of lazing about with nothing to do was going to drive her mad. She knew the two soldiers well enough to know that no harm would come to them, and not even the boys who had fawned over Marie had the gumption to actually ask her to leave with them.

"Wait," she called out, just as the soldiers were exiting. "It wouldn't do any harm to close up early just this once."

Marie turned to the elder girl with a pleading look, her brown eyes wide.

"What are you doing?" She hissed. Katie pulled her close.

"Please Marie; I just want to get out of this place. We'll go with them for an hour maybe and then stay at Jules' house until we're expected at home." She whispered back. Marie was obviously swayed by the mention of her gray eyed beau.

"Fine, but only an hour."

I promise chapter 8 will not take another 7 months to write.