My eyes are puffy from lack of sleep in the morning, and Henrietta frets over them. I feel like a child’s doll as she dresses me in a pale green and white gown, lifting my arms when she tells me to, turning when she commands, but otherwise being very little help. Afterward, my hair is wrangled into another intricate pattern. Henrietta learned it last night from one of the visiting handmaids who serves a young, fashionable countess.
“The latest style,” she says, looking at it with pride when she’s finished.
I try to tell her it looks wonderful but end up yawning instead. She rolls her eyes at me and ties a ribbon around my throat that matches the green in my gown. My gaze shifts to my reflection, and I have to admit she’s done well with what I’ve given her this morning.
“Thank you for making me presentable,” I say, wondering if I should order more tea. I’ve already had two cups, but they did nothing to relieve my exhaustion.
“You’re welcome,” Henrietta says, grinning. “You must look your best for Lord Giroux.”
I go still in my seat, watching her through the mirror. I’ve said nothing about Lord Giroux’s ridiculous pledge to court me. She looks so young and sincere, with no hint of malice or intrigue in her soft grey eyes. Is she one of them? Or, if not, does she know what goes on here and is simply another set of eyes sent to watch me?
“Excuse me?” I ask, my heart fluttering.
She leans in and drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “One of the footmen told me that Lord Giroux couldn’t keep his eyes off you at dinner last night.”
I nearly collapse in relief. Of course. How could I have forgotten in only three weeks that the staff of a house knows the lives of its employers even before they do?
“And another overheard his request to the marquise,” she says. “’Tis a fine match, if I may say so. He is very handsome and so brave, leading all those raids. You must be proud to have your name tied to his.” If she’s being disingenuous right now, she’s the best actress not on a stage. She looks absolutely thrilled for me.
“I am,” I tell her, praying she won’t see the lie in my face. “Speaking of which, I may need you to act as my chaperone occasionally.”
“Oh! Of course.” Her grin turns wicked. “I promise I’ll be the best chaperone you could ask for. Just let me know the sign, and whenever you give it to me, I’ll turn my back on any intimacies you don’t want me to witness.”
I nearly choke. “Ah, I don’t think that will be necessary. All I’ll ask is that you keep anything you may overhear to yourself.”
She mimes stitching her lips shut, but her silence only lasts so long. “I would never repeat a word about you and him to anyone. I may like to hear gossip and relay it when the occasion calls for it, but I know where the line is.”
“Thank you,” I say, praying she’s being truthful. Even though a large part of me wants to believe her, I still don’t trust her. I can’t. She lives and works alongside people she must know are not quite right. At best, she’s willfully ignorant. At worst, she’s complicit in whatever is going on here.
She opens a drawer and puts away an excess ribbon. “If that’s all, I’d like to finish the green dress for tonight.”
I nearly groan. “The green? It’s worse than the red!”
Her expression turns pleading, and I don’t know why I argue with her over these things when she almost always gets her way. “But it’s such a beautiful gown, and you’ll look so good in it,” she says. “And really, with you being so thin, it’s not that scandalous. The Baroness de Langfore’s gown last night was a good two inches lower than yours. Even the marquise’s mourning gown was more revealing.” No doubt the information about the baroness came from one of her footmen informants. Sometimes, I think men are bigger gossips than women.
“Fine,” I give in, rising and heading toward Livy’s room.
Behind me, Henrietta lets out a triumphant, “Yesss!”
I worry I’m turning her into a monster.
The adjoining door is open, and I find Livy seated at her vanity when I enter. I pause and shut the door behind me before joining her.
Her gaze meets mine in her mirror. “She just wants to see you catch the eye of her lord,” she says, having obviously overheard my conversation with my maid.
She sends me a warning look, one I interpret immediately. I need to do a better job acting my part. If this was a normal courtship, I’d be expected to do everything in my power to secure my hold on Lord Giroux. I was a handmaid just a few weeks ago; I should be delirious that the first-born son of a wealthy noble family wants to court me.
I nod, trying to tell Livy without words that I understand.
Ten minutes later, we’re winding our way downstairs to join Livy’s mother for breakfast. We eat every morning together in an eastern-facing parlor. The top half of the walls are papered with cream and butter yellow stripes, and the bottom is finished out with white-washed woodwork. A heavenly scene is painted on the ceiling, meddlesome cherubs flitting around gossamer-clothed angels reclining upon clouds. This morning, with the sun filtering in through the large windows, the room is bathed in a warm glow, displayed at its very best. It should lift my mood, but it doesn’t. I feel like a black cloud follows me inside, casting everything in shadow. What on earth does the baron have planned for me?
The marquise is already seated at the small, circular table, sipping her morning cup of chocolate. She raises her head when we enter. “Good morning, girls.” She’s wearing a dark gray gown and looks tired. She must have stayed up late with our guests, most of whom are still in bed. I hadn’t expected to see her, thinking that she, too, would sleep in.
“Good morning, Mama,” Livy says, kissing her on the cheek before sitting.
“Good morning,” I echo, taking my own, opposite the marquise.
“Don’t you look lovely this morning,” she tells me. “That ribbon is a nice touch.”
“Thank you,” I say. Remembering Livy’s earlier caution, I add. “Hopefully, Lord Giroux agrees.”
The marquise lifts her chocolate and smiles into it. “I’m sure he will.”
Livy waves away the maid coming forward to help us. “I’ll get it, thank you.” She lifts the tea kettle and serves us both a cup. “It’s nice to finally see the sun again. I feel like it’s been dreary for weeks.”
“I think it will be warmer today than it has been,” her mother says. “I’ve already seen Henri, and he mentioned taking a turn around the garden with Belle.”
Livy, God bless her, only falters for a moment, recovering swiftly as she hands me my tea. I take it and return her mother’s smile, stifling the strange flutter of my pulse as I remember, of all things, the feel of Lord Giroux’s hands around my waist yesterday morning.
“He did?” I ask, forcing the words out, hoping I sound inquisitive and excited.
The marquise takes another sip of her chocolate and nods.
The more I placate her, the less likely she’ll be involved in whatever intrigue is playing out here. The same is probably true for Livy. One of the things I determined as I lay awake last night was that I need to try and keep her removed from what my true involvement with the rebellion might become. And especially from any knowledge I might gain of the baron and his son. I might be trapped by their interest, but I’ll be damned if I’m the cause of Livy’s downfall as well. The less she knows from here on out, the safer she’ll be. If I have to lie to keep her free, so be it. Better she be alive and well and angry at me than caught up in whatever game I am.
The marquise sets her chocolate down. “You’ll be the envy of every mademoiselle this side of the Seine,” she tells me. “Women have been throwing their caps at Henri for years. Well, when he bothered to show up at court functions, that is. He was always found near Louis and left dreadfully early during those evenings. I had thought, like so many northern lords, that he preferred the solitude of the country, and that’s why we hardly ever saw him at Versailles. Now that I know his profession, it all makes sense, but I must admit my friends with marriageable daughters found it maddening at the time.”
“I can imagine,” I say.
During our short stay at the disintegrating court, I learned that even when riots raged on the streets around us, marriage was the only thing that unmarried ladies and noblewomen with daughters seemed to think of. And if they were already married, well, their thoughts seemed to be occupied by other things, their husbands seldom among them. Few of the marriages at court were happy, and there were even rumors that the queen had taken a lover some years ago. She always set the fashion, so affairs became de rigueur amongst the noblewomen.
I’m happy Olivia has grown up removed from that world, whatever the circumstances. She saw the same things I did and lamented them because she wanted to marry for love. She’s luckier than most young noblewomen. With a sizeable dowry and a good family, she doesn’t need to marry for fortune. She might have been at risk of being forced into a political alliance, but I think her parents were more likely to let her select a man that she actually cared for and had a chance to be happy with. Hopefully, she’ll still be allowed such a blessing.
“Of course,” the marquise says, and I quickly bring my attention back to the conversation, trying to remember where we’d left off. “With a title to inherit, money in the coffers, and an excellent form and manners, he has been the target of numerous families.”
Manners? I nearly scoff, wondering if she’s still speaking about Lord Giroux. Unbidden, I recall the feel of his thumbs on my neck the night of the surgery, his silence from yesterday morning, and the way he lifted me into my saddle, his hands lingering around my waist. “Isabelle,” whispers through my mind, an echo from the balcony last night. Even the warmth of the sun doesn’t keep my shiver at bay. God, maybe he had been trying to make his intentions clear, and I’d just been too terrified to realize it.
I distract myself by pouring more tea, using both hands to keep the kettle steady. I add a generous amount of milk to it and leave it unsweetened, needing the bitter brew to revive myself after such a sleepless night. I wish we had some coffee, but thanks to the turmoil in our country, the price of coffee and other luxuries has been skyrocketing, and it’s been hard to come by lately.
“Now, good manners aside, he is still a man,” the marquise continues. Her tone is sterner than a moment ago, and I look over to see her eyeing me with some apprehension. “I don’t want you to allow him to take any liberties from you.”
I nod and hide my blush in my tea. She knows that I’ve never lain with a man, never done more than allow one or two kisses. We had that awkward conversation when I was still bedridden. It was necessary for her to decide whether or not to give me a dowry upon marriage. Apparently, only virgins are worth any sort of bride price.
“What sort of liberties?” Livy asks, leaning in, her expression far too curious.
“Olivia, really,” her mother says with a roll of her eyes. They settle on me afterward. “I don’t want you to get carried away, Belle. You’re a Descoteaux now, and you have your reputation to maintain.”
“I won’t,” I assure her, not even allowing myself to picture all the ways a young woman could be led astray by such a man as Lord Giroux.
All trace of sternness disappears from her face as she reclines in her seat, her gaze going past me. “You say that now.” A sly grin lifts the corners of her mouth. “When George and I were,” her eyes flicker to her daughter, and she recalls herself, “never mind.”
Livy leans forward with open interest. “When you and Papa were what?”
“Nothing for your ears,” her mother says.
Livy drops her eyes to the table and stabs a piece of ham with her fork. “No one ever tells me anything.”
She’s sixteen, not six, I want to tell her mother, but I still don’t feel it’s my place.
The sun dances through Livy’s golden hair and alights on her wispy eyelashes. She’s of marriageable age, and may even find a husband before the year is out. She deserves to know the details of that marriage and what to expect from a man. She should have heard those details from her mother, but instead, I was the one to explain them to her the day after I woke up from my operation. She came to me with tears in her eyes, asking what that san culottes had been trying to do to her. I told her everything I knew about sex, admitting that my knowledge base was limited. I explained how some men think they deserve it whether it’s freely given or not, and the sans culottes I killed was one of them. She asked if there were a lot of men like that, and it pained me to tell her they were more common than they should be. She’s been wary around strange men ever since, not that I can blame her.
I glance from her plate to my empty one, sighing at the food spread out over the center of the table. I need to eat. Experience tells me that I have to put something in my stomach even if I’m not hungry. I’ll end up with a headache if I don’t, and my mood will deteriorate even further.
I take a few thick slices of ham and a pastry, tucking into them in between sips of tea. Our conversation moves on to safer topics while we eat, the marquise filling us in on everything we missed after leaving the party. I listen to her with half an ear. I can’t help but feel like I’m balanced on some great precipice this morning, that my whole life has somehow been leading up to this moment. What does the baron want with me? Why is this ruse with his son necessary? Or are the two even connected?
There’s a knock on the door, and the marquise calls out the command to enter. My heart falls when Mallory strides inside.
“Pardon me, my lady,” she says, dipping a graceful curtsy. “The baron has asked to see Lady Descoteaux.”
I turn from her to the marquise, wishing there was some way to avoid this but knowing there isn’t. “May I be excused?”
The marquise nods. “Keep Mallory with you. You need a chaperone now.”
Great. Of all the maids who I could have been saddled with, of course, it would be the one I don’t like.
I rise from the table, but as I turn to leave, Livy grabs my hand.
Be careful, her eyes say. “Good luck,” she says aloud.
I nod and follow the maid out.
Where is Henrietta? Surely it would have made more sense for them to send her, my own handmaid, to fetch me. Perhaps someone overheard our conversation this morning and sent Mallory instead, knowing where her loyalties lay.
I shake out my skirts as we walk and try to steel myself against whatever is to come. Ever since the baron pulled me aside last night, I’ve been fighting back a strange sense of foreboding, and it’s growing larger with every step I take. My heartbeat pulses in my temples, my fear getting the better of me.
Mallory turns up a flight of stairs, and as I lift my skirts and follow her, I think back on one of my father’s most memorable lessons.
“Fear is good,” he told me. “It is instinctual. It alerts you to a threat. You must always be aware of your fear, but you must never let it become your master. You have to learn to breathe around it, think around it, so that you may be free to act around it.”
I am afraid, and that’s okay, I tell myself. Who wouldn’t be wary in my shoes? Who wouldn’t worry about what a rebel leader and notorious spy wanted of them? I didn’t let my fear best me in the forest all those weeks ago, and I’ll be damned if I let it get the better of me now.
I square my shoulders as my heart rate slows. We reach the top of the stairs and turn right. The redheaded maid in front of me makes no noise on the carpet. I frown, thinking of her wry grins and her strange eyes. Fine. Two can play this game. I lift the front of my skirts even higher, so my legs won’t kick or rustle the petticoats beneath. Then, letting more of my father’s lessons fill my mind, I carefully begin to place one slippered foot in front of the other, rolling from heel to toe as I walk. After a few seconds, Mallory slows her pace, canting her head to the side as if listening. She’s frowning as she turns around, but when she catches sight of me still right on her heels, the frown disappears, replaced by a wide grin. It’s not a friendly look. If anything, she’s smiling at me like a fox might a hen.
“You’re very quiet for a lady,” she says, her green eyes sparking.
“Interesting that a scullery maid would notice that and remark upon it,” I shoot back.
Caught you, I think.
She laughs and continues walking, putting an end to our strange tête-à-tête. A few moments later, she stops in front of a door. “Here we are, my lady.”
I eye her for a second before sweeping into the room. The door closes behind me with a snick, and I’m not surprised to see that she elected to stay out in the hall. So much for a chaperone.
I turn and take in the room, drawing up short. It’s the room in which my bullet was removed. I must have been too distracted in the hallway to recognize our path. The furniture is back in place now, and the woven Persian carpets are spread over the floor. It couldn’t be more of a nobleman’s study if it tried. All the wood is darkly stained. The furniture is rugged and sturdy. We’re on the western side of the chateau, and the sun hasn’t gained enough height to reach inside, leaving us in a state of semi-darkness. My host is seated behind the heavy mahogany desk near the windows, and by the time my eyes land on him, he’s pushing up from his chair.
“You requested my presence, my lord,” I say, putting forth my best manners. Another thing I’ve decided is that I must face whatever is to come with a clear head and a calm voice. He may unnerve me, he may intimidate me, but I refuse to let him cow me.
“I did,” he says, buttoning his black jacket and coming around the desk.
I curtsy when he reaches me, and when I rise, he takes my hand and bows over it, planting a soft kiss on my cream-colored glove.
“You look radiant this morning,” he says. “I trust you slept well?” Is that condescension I see in his eyes?
“I did not, as I’m sure you’ve been told,” I say in return, keeping my voice steady even as I rise to the bait.
He arches a brow at me and chuckles, neither confirming nor denying my suspicion that I’m being watched. “Come take a seat.”
Before I can comply, he tucks my arm into his and leads me toward the desk. Heat radiates off him, licking up my exposed skin; he’s as feverishly warm as his son. I mark it as yet another oddity. We reach the leather chairs facing his desk, and he releases me and indicates I sit. I take a moment to arrange my skirts after I do, gathering my courage. When I’m done, I fold my hands in my lap and lift my gaze to the baron.
He’s tucked behind the desk, his eyes boring into mine, and I’m reminded of Livy’s passing comment about how his regard makes her want to spill all her secrets. I keep my face passive and pray to God for patience to wait him out. It suddenly seems very important that I win this small battle.
I have no idea how much time passes in silence. It feels like hours, though I’m sure it’s no more than a few minutes.
He arches a brow at me as if to say, “No? You’re not going to speak?”
I shake my head.
He grins. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve asked you here.”
“Of course, my lord.”
“We would like to recruit you.”
I frown. “Into the rebellion?”
He steeples his fingers and watches me over them. “Yes.”
I take several breaths, trying to corral my racing heart. “I can’t become a rebel soldier. I’ve just become the ward of the marquise. The family needs me.”
“I’m not asking you to sever your ties,” he says. “Only forge some new ones.”
“No,” I answer, trying to keep my voice even. How did I not see this coming? His interest in me, his research into my past, these were my indicators. The largest hints were the cryptic way he talked about me serving ‘the cause’ and wanting to tie me to his family in this mock courtship between his son and me.
“I’m going to ignore that answer for now,” he says, his voice rougher, less cultured than I’ve ever heard it. I wonder if he has to work to keep it smooth. This growling alto seems to suit him better. He sits forward, leaning over his desk to regard me with glittering black eyes. “I don’t think you’ve considered the predicament you’re in. You know too much, have seen too much. You’ve even guessed that there is something…unnatural about those within my manor and my town. And you’ve discussed your fears with your young companion. So, you see, I have two choices: recruit you, or kill you.” His eyes go cold. “And her.”
I grip the arms of my chair to hide my shaking. The fear I’ve been fighting explodes through my chest, not just for myself but for Livy, the marquise, Emanuel, Jacques, and all the other innocent souls within this devil’s reach. I can’t breathe around the terror, can’t think around it. Across from me, the baron’s eyes become hooded, and he sucks in a deep breath through his nose as if savoring the scent of my fear. Like a predator.
Unnatural, he said. The word seems to echo in my mind. Someone heard me speak to Livy last night. It would have taken unnatural hearing to do so. How could I have been so stupid?
“She’s just an innocent girl,” I say.
He spreads his hands. “I have no choice.”
A shudder moves through my body. His expression is merciless, and I begin to believe him, begin to believe that he would murder his cousin’s daughter just to silence her. God help us all.
“I would never tell anyone about what I’ve seen,” I say. “Nor would Livy. No one would even believe us.”
He cocks his head sideways, studying me. “Some might, but it doesn’t matter. You will join the rebellion, and you will do everything to dissuade Olivia from ever thinking ill of us again. Or you will both die.”
I see it in his eyes. There’s no bargaining with him. No mercy in his soul. I either do what he says or condemn myself and Livy to death.
“Tick, tock,” he says, his deep voice tolling out like a clocktower. “You have a choice to make, Isabelle.”
Anger and outrage mix with my fear as I realize how trapped I truly am. And it wouldn’t just be me and Livy to suffer. The marquise and her sons would never accept our sudden disappearances or deaths. They would do everything they could to find us, to find out what happened to us, and it might lead to their downfalls as well. Tears prick the corners of my eyes, tears full of helplessness and frustration. I fight them off, unwilling to show this man any weakness. I’ve never hated a person in my life, but the rage burning in my chest tells me that I may just hate the baron.
“I accept,” I say.
The baron rises from his chair and rounds the desk. He stops in front of me and leans back against it, crossing his legs at the ankle. He’s too close, and I can’t help but try to back away, at least as far as my chair will allow. He just threatened to kill me. Invading my personal space right afterward can’t be anything but an idle threat.
“I’m sorry that it’s come to this,” he says, his voice softer than a moment ago. “I hoped that I could convince you to join us over time, letting you become used to the idea and accepting the offer of your own free will, but you discovered too much, too quickly. Most people who see things they shouldn’t convince themselves that there’s a logical explanation behind it, and they go on with their lives believing the lie they’ve told themselves. Usually, when someone reaches adulthood, they aren’t even able to see the things you have. Take Olivia, for example. It was only after you told her about our eyes that she began to notice them.”
I stare up at him, baffled. How does he even know that? I told Livy that on horseback, halfway between the chateau and the village. We were in the middle of the forest; no one was even…
My thoughts trail off. Someone must have followed us that morning. And if whoever has been spying on us could hear the words Livy and I whispered to each other last night, they would have easily heard the words we spoke aloud on the road. I glance past the baron to the grounds beyond the window and the trees in the distance. Is no place safe?
And then something else he says hits me: Livy hadn’t noticed the eyes until I pointed them out. It truly is all my fault that she’s in danger. Damn it! Why couldn’t I have listened to my instincts and kept quiet about what I’d witnessed? About the words that have passed between the baron, Lord Giroux, and I? I was just so afraid that I was sick, that I was seeing things that weren’t there, that I was losing my mind. And so I said something to Livy, hoping I wasn’t mad, and I’d damned her because of it.
“I thought it was stress at first,” I say in a whisper, wondering why I’m even telling him this. “Then I thought it was the laudanum, and I must have been hallucinating.”
The baron nods. “And so it is with the few people with the ability to see things they shouldn’t. They find some plausible excuse. It seldom happens that two people with similar suspicions discuss them with each other.” He smiles, and if I didn’t know him, I would think it kind. “For who would believe such things?”
I tear my gaze from him, thinking of the many adventure novels about pirates, scoundrels, and ghouls that Livy and I have passed back and forth. “Young women who read too much.”
He chuckles, and hearing him laugh makes me wonder if I’ll ever feel enough joy to laugh again. Something of my thoughts must show in my expression.
“I understand that you must hate me right now,” he says. “I can’t fault you for it, but I believe in time you may come to forgive me, to enjoy your new profession.”
I huff out a breath, fighting the urge to do something violent. “Unlikely.”
He’s silent for so long that I look up at him. His strong face is shadowed, backlit by the light of the windows. He looks so much like his son, or more accurately, Lord Giroux looks so much like him. But there’s a hardness, a mercilessness to this man that his son doesn’t yet possess, and as I watch, that unforgiving quality takes over, and his eyes once more become half-lidded and dangerous.
“What did you ask my son last night? Out on the balcony?”
I hesitate. Lord Giroux didn’t tell him?
He lunges forward, hands gripping mine over the arms of the chair, hard enough to hurt. His eyes aren’t black anymore; they’re amber. Fear hammers into my heart. I expect him to yell at me, but his voice is barely above a whisper. “What did you say, Isabelle?”
I lean back, desperate to escape. My voice comes out strangled. “I asked him what he was.”
“And did he answer you?” he demands.
I shake my head. “He said it was a dangerous question.”
His hands disappear. I blink, and he’s several feet away. How did he move that fast?
“That is a dangerous question,” he says. “And one you’re not yet ready to hear the answer to.”
Does that mean one day I will be? Suddenly, I’m hoping that day will never come. I was ravenously curious about him and his son before, but now I’m only afraid. What kind of creature, of demon can change their eye color at will and move like, like…
My dream from all those weeks ago comes back to me.
Too fast to be human and too silent to be anything made by God.
I shake my head, trying to escape the memory, but it sucks me in, and I’m back on that road, racing through the night. Around me, the darkness seethes. Howls rend the air, and fur flashes in my periphery. I see a shape lunge out of the shadows, strange amber eyes filling my vision.
I come back to myself. The baron’s hands are clamped over my shoulders. His eyes are wild, and he drags in deep, heaving breaths. “You smell like –” He shakes his head. “No. It can’t be. Tell me what just happened.”
My head is splitting. I try to rub at my temple and find I’m restricted by his grip. “I don’t know.”
He shakes me, and pain flares through my shoulder. “Tell me!”
“Stop it! You’re hurting me!”
He leans in, amber eyes filling my sight. “You have no idea what pain is.”
“I don’t know what that was!” I lean forward instead of away, and my voice comes out louder than I’ve ever heard it before. “LET ME GO!”
His hands disappear, and he takes a staggering step backward like I just shoved him. Pain, sharp and merciless, cuts through my head. Exhaustion washes over me in its wake, like I just drained myself yelling at him. What the hell just happened?
There’s a knock on the door. “My lord?” Mallory calls.
“It’s fine,” he calls back. I expect him to grab me again, but he straightens, watching me as if he’s discovered a rare sort of insect beneath his foot and is deciding whether or not to crush it.
I flinch when he moves, but it’s only to turn from me and pace back to his seat with that startling, and most likely deadly, grace. “My son is going to direct your training.”
The pieces of the puzzle start to fit together in my mind. “If Lord Giroux is training me, we’ll need a viable excuse to spend time together. That explains the sham courtship.”
He frowns. “Sham?”
The blood drains from my face. “You have to be joking.”
“Not at all,” he says. “My son is quite taken with you. It’s not every day that a man meets a woman capable of killing three men in the span of ten minutes or staying rational and polite with a bullet lodged in her arm. You kept still while it was pulled out, separated your mind from your pain on the first try, and then discovered more about us than any other person has in years.” He looks me over, taking his time to inspect every inch he can see. “I must admit if I weren’t happily married, I might just consider giving him a run for you.” My stomach heaves at the thought. “As it is, you’re correct in that this ‘sham’ courtship, as you call it, serves as the perfect front for you to spend time together. Who knows, you may just find that the two of you suit.”
The words are disturbingly close to what the marquise said earlier, and I balk at them.
Never, I want to tell him, but I keep the word in. I have a feeling I’ve already pushed him too far today.
There’s a knock on the door, and I hear it start to open before the baron can answer it. I turn, expecting to see Mallory, and am met with the sight of Lord Giroux instead. He looks like he’s just come from the stables, with black riding pants tucked into a pair of gleaming Hessian boots. Like all men’s breeches, his are perfectly tailored to his form, revealing muscular thighs. His jacket strains to contain his broad shoulders, and I worry about the welfare of its seams. It looks like all it would take is one quick move or flex of those big arms for it to fall to pieces around him. The shirt beneath it is a crisp white, making his face appear even more striking in contrast.
“Ah, Henri,” the baron says. “We were just talking about you.”
I turn from son to father. The baron rises from his seat and moves to greet his offspring, or spawn, depending on what they truly are. My eyes go up and up, taking them both in. Well, look at that, Lord Giroux actually has an inch or two on his father. I shift in my seat, feeling like my skin is suddenly too tight. It was bad enough being trapped in this room with the baron, but now that they’re both in here, it feels like there’s no air left for anyone else. How can two men take up so much space?
The baron glances down at me as if sensing my discomfort. He frowns, dragging in another deep breath. I resist the urge to shiver. I want out of this room. Now.
Copyright © 2022 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.