Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Chateau de la Mer, you’re in for a real treat:
Luc d’Artois is ready to die. He has nothing to live for. All he has left is his name.
But his name proves more valuable than he realizes when he is approached by a
mysterious woman who offers a temporary reprieve from the gallows in exchange for his name. His contract with Gabrielle Giraud, however, turns out to be much more than he bargained for. She could be his every dream come true or the start of a nightmare from which he will never awaken.
Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, degradation, and brutality, they are trapped in a secret and living a lie…his lie, the lie Luc demanded Gabrielle live with. But will the lie intended to afford Luc time to redeem himself rob him of the life he intends to live with Gabrielle?
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
an excerpt from
Chateau de la Mer
by Elisabeth Nelson
Copyright © 2012 by Elisabeth Nelson and published here with her permission
To my daughter and her colleagues committed to ending human trafficking (http://www.polarisproject.org.)
“On your feet!” was the order, followed by the blow of a club against the prisoner’s ribs. The prisoner sat up. Instinctively, he swung his fists. The guard fell, regained his footing, and then proceeded to beat the prisoner into submission.
The guard, breathing heavily now, pulled Luc d’Artois to his feet. “You have a visitor, dog.”
Luc didn’t respond with anything more than a contemptuous look. “Visitor,” he thought as the guard left his cell. For his crimes, Luc d’Artois was the most despised among the despised, and his only “visitors” were the kind he would have to beat to a pulp or suffer the degradation of being the “visitor’s” bitch–all to the great entertainment of the prison guards.
Thus far, he had fought his way free of that particular degradation, but the guards were determined now to see him defeated and subjugated. He prayed his date with the hangman came before their satisfaction ever came about.
Luc began steeling himself, willing away the pain that relentlessly racked his body–pain from clubs, fists…hunger. The guard appeared again, and Luc waited for his newest opponent to appear.
Instead, the guard looked behind himself and said, “Here he is. Want me to stay with you?” Luc didn’t hear the response, but the guard turned to him, warned him to behave, and then left.
At first, Luc saw nothing but shadows in the dim lighting.
He squinted a little, anticipating some kind of surprise attack.
Then he heard, “M’sieur d’Artois?” and from those shadows, a rather diminutive woman emerged. He couldn’t see her face or figure for the dark heavy veil and shapeless black cloak concealing her, but he could smell her. Even through the stench of the prison, he could smell the delicate scent of a woman–a lady. He inhaled her like a breath of fresh air.
“You are M’sieur d’Artois?” She addressed him speaking French.
“Who are you?”
“I will know first whom I am addressing.”
With a sardonic curl on his lips, he effected an exaggerated, courtly bow and replied, “Jon Luc d’Artois at your service.”
“You have a noble name, but you are not French?”
“Virginian,” he said. “American. My English is a little better than my French.”
“They said you were French,” she replied in English, then muttered, “The English cannot be trusted,” before she said,
“And I thank you to speak poor French rather than good English for that reason.”
“As you wish,” he replied, accommodating her request.
“Now who are you, and what difference does it make to you that I’m not French?”
“My name is Gabrielle Giraud, and whether or not you are French would matter a great deal to my father.”
He almost laughed. “I beg your pardon, but I don’t understand your meaning.”
“Still, your family name is French, and you are not English,”
she said. “Tell me, m’sieur, are you being treated well?”
“Like a prince,” he replied, sweeping his arms wide to show off his castle.
“You’re a condemned man. I’m told you are to hang for raping and murdering a child.”
“You can’t trust the English, remember?”
“So you are not convicted…”
“No, I’m convicted and sentenced to hang.”
“You are innocent?” she said–a little snidely, he thought.
“The fact that you’re here tells me my guilt or innocence doesn’t matter to you. So I’ll spare you any further discussion on the matter, unless of course you want the grizzly details not told in the papers. Then I shall be happy to oblige you, as I never tire of retelling those details. But if it’s not the details you want, I ask you again, Mademoiselle Gabrielle Giraud, what do you want?”
There was a brief pause before she replied, “Your name.”
Luc’s expression mirrored his confusion. “My name? What do you mean you want my name?”
“M’sieur d’Artois, I am proposing you give me your name, and in exchange for your name, I will guarantee the rest of your life will be spent in comfort.”
For several very long moments, Luc stared at her, trying to process the turn of this conversation. “Just how can you make such a guarantee…You mean marry you?” he said, incredulous now. “Why in God’s name do you want to marry me?”
“I don’t want to marry you. I want your name, and I’m rich, m’sieur, very rich. There is very little money cannot buy.”
“Including my name it seems,” he retorted.
“What it will buy is relief for us both,” she said. “I can’t buy a pardon for your crimes, but I can buy you freedom from the misery of this place.”
“Let’s assume you can do that. Why would you do that?”
“Because if I don’t marry someone of my choosing, my father will force me to marry someone of his choosing. If I have your name, I can go home a widow instead.”
Luc started to laugh. “Well, now I know why you chose me,”
he said. “Mademoiselle, I think you’ve lost your mind. Go home, and do what your father wants. Trust me, it will spare you considerable trouble later.”
“Thank you for the counsel, M’sieur d’Artois, but I will not be sold to the highest bidder. No, m’sieur, I will do this. If not with your assistance, then with someone else. Good day.”
She started to turn away, but he called out to her. “You’re really that determined?”
With a tilt of his head, he said, “You can do that for me?”
“It’s already arranged for you, or someone else with perhaps enough sense not to turn up his superior nose at a mad female.”
He glowered at her before pressing on. “When and where would this marriage take place?”
“When is in a month’s time. Where does not concern you, unless you agree to my proposition.”
His expression turned thoughtful, then suspicious. “You can really do something about his place?”
“If I can’t, we have no bargain, and you have lost nothing.”
He studied her again before he said, “What’s wrong with you? Who or what are you hiding now?”
“I suppose there is much wrong with me, but at present, I am only concealing my presence here. You understand? This marriage must satisfy my father. He must have no reason to suspect trickery. There must be no one who can report I was here, so while I am here, I am Madam Rousseau looking for a little…adventure in her otherwise dull life.”
Another silent perusal, a little more contemplation for Luc before he replied with a sneering sort of cockiness he didn’t really feel. “I’ll let you marry me.”
Gabrielle Giraud took her leave without saying any more on the subject. Luc could only shake his head in wonder. Still, if she could arrange any improvement to his surroundings and situation, he would call her his Angel Gabrielle.
He looked at the dirty, damp straw that was his bed and grimaced. Clean straw would be nice…maybe a meal that didn’t crawl off the plate…a chance to look out a window and breathe into his lungs something other than the sickening odor of human filth and excrement. If she could do that…
Luc laughed at himself. “Impossible,” he thought. He wasn’t worth the bribe she’d have to pay to get him out of this English hell-hole.
Nevertheless, long after the dark of night settled over him, Luc was still thinking about Gabrielle Giraud and the proposal she made. He couldn’t help but be curious about her, if for no other reason than she was a woman, and he had not seen a woman in months. Of course, he had not actually seen Gabrielle Giraud, but he allowed his imagination to provide the details.
He was contemplating those details when he heard hushed voices outside his cell. A few moments later, a guard was fumbling with his keys. Luc sat up as the door to his cell swung open.
“Well, pretty boy, looks like you got yourself a guardian angel–or devil from what I hear,” the guard said. Another guard entered the cell. “Probably be wishing you were a bitch instead when she finishes with you,” the first guard continued. “Bet she’ll make a souvenir of what manhood you have left before she brings you back.”
“Brings me back?” Luc said. The second guard promptly punched Luc in the jaw before gagging him.
The first guard laughed and said, “You think she’s going to keep you? Aye, you’ll be back, looking like a little girl and begging to hang.”
Luc was quickly shackled, manacled, fitted for a collar, another chain, and then led out of his cell like a dog on a leash.
With only a candle to light the way, the guards shuffled Luc down a dark corridor, pushed him down some stairs, and then dragged him towards a cart. After shoving him into a sack, they tossed him into the cart, which wheeled him away.
As Luc lie there helpless and immobile, he started to feel sick inside. What new hell had he just put upon himself?
Enveloped in black, Luc didn’t know if it was day or night or how many days and nights had passed. But it felt like an eternity–jostled and bounced, manacled, fettered and chained, no food, no water, and scarcely enough air to breathe…and the silence. The damn silence. He heard nothing but the rumble of the wagon wheels and clipping of the horses’ hooves. There wasn’t even a guard sneering at him, no one to acknowledge his existence.
With every jolt of the wagon, every beat of his heart, Luc could feel his will giving way to the pain, depravation, and degradation. Misery was becoming his priority, smothering his pride and dignity…What pride? What dignity? Had he not lost both the day they said “Guilty”? What was he fighting for or against? These English bastards would never grant him a reprieve. He was going to be executed…
Abruptly all movement stopped. “The horses,” he thought.
“They’re changing the horses.” The horses must be watered and fed. He must wait on the horses…Voices? He strained to hear what was being said…muffled gibberish. The squeak of a door startled him, and within moments, he was yanked by his ankles.
With a dull thud, he hit the ground. He would have screamed in pain if he could have. But his throat was so dry no sound came forth.
Unexpectedly, the black shroud was torn away. The brightness of the sun blinded him, causing him to curl up and cringe. He heard more gibberish as he was pulled to his feet. He tried to open his eyes, but it hurt too much. Whoever was holding him up suddenly let go, and he started to fall. But he was caught and, like a sack of wheat, tossed over a shoulder and carried away.
“M’sieur? M’sieur d’Artois? Can you hear me, m’sieur?”
The voice filtering through the haze was unfamiliar, male, polite…French?
Luc opened his eyes to the canopy over him. Disoriented, he tried to force some recollection, but had none.
He turned his head slightly and found an older, impeccably groomed man watching him closely. Swallowing, Luc managed to voice a hoarse whisper, “Where…”
“The residence of Mademoiselle Giraud,” the Frenchman replied. “You remember Mademoiselle Giraud?”
Luc shook his head, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
The aroma of warm bread roused Luc from his sleep the following morning. He opened his eyes and saw the Frenchman removing silver covers from the dishes on the table. The man glanced towards the bed, stopped, and did a double-take.
“Good day, M’sieur d’Artois.”
“Morning,” Luc said, sitting up slowly, feeling weak and every ache of his body.
The Frenchman approached, and Luc recoiled, his eyes mirroring his suspicion. The Frenchman retreated slightly, then spying a robe, he reached for it.
“May I assist you?” he said, offering the robe.
Luc snatched it from him. He covered himself, keeping a watchful eye on the too polite man.
He gestured to the table. “Breakfast, m’sieur?”
Luc positioned himself to leave the bed. With all the wariness of a trapped animal, he rose to his feet, and his weak legs almost collapsed beneath him. The Frenchman moved in, and quickly regaining his balance, Luc raised his fists in defense.
The man halted, began backing his way to the door, and said he would tend to the bath. Then he left Luc alone.
Looking around the room for the hiding place of his would be attackers, yet feeling the ache of hunger acutely with the temptation on the table, Luc didn’t know what to do. Was it some new torture? Some cruel joke? Were they lying in wait or simply watching him, amused by his predicament, waiting to see if he would take the bait?
“But where are they hiding?” he asked himself as he looked about the room again.
His eyes were drawn once more to the table and the feast that was there. He saw the bread, hesitated, then damned them as he snatched the loaf, devouring it, expecting at any moment it would be ripped from his hands. Then he caught a reflection in the mirror. The image so grotesque and disturbing, the shock of it momentarily paralyzed him. His eyes shot around the room.
He saw no one, realizing then that disgusting creature in the looking glass was Luc d’Artois.
The face of this beast was so battered and bruised, so swollen and torn–unrecognizable, barely human. A matted mass of dark hair hung like snakes from his head, and the layers of filth and waste that covered this freak from head to toe turned Luc’s stomach. His revulsion, self-loathing, and pain took over.
Throwing the bread aside, he threw his fist at himself, shattering the glass. Then holding his head, he sank to his knees.
Within moments, the door was thrown open, but Luc didn’t fear what was sure to come. He was ready to die. He wanted to die.
The Frenchman was back, but not beating him. He attempted instead to assist Luc to his feet, but stopped when Luc’s forehead fell in desolation against the older man’s chest.
“A bullet, sir,” Luc whispered. “For mercy’s sake, I beg you just put a bullet in my head.”
“But you don’t want to die now,” the Frenchman said, speaking in English instead of French.
“So I can suffer a new hell,” Luc said, choking back his tears.
“Hell is over, Luc d’Artois.”
Luc lifted his head and said, “Or has it just begun?”
The older man smiled. “Only if you are afraid of a little soap and water.”
Luc wasn’t wholly convinced that the torture had ended, but he had no choice but to trust the man he knew as Jacques. Thus far, Jacques had done nothing to raise any greater suspicion, and he kept a steady supply of hot, clean water coming while Luc scrubbed his skin nearly raw.
“I think you’re clean, m’sieur,” Jacques said, holding up a fresh robe.
Luc took the robe. His long wet hair dripped water into his eyes.
“I don’t suppose you have any scissors,” he said, pushing his hair back before tying the belt around his waist. Then his eyes rested upon the table, or rather the feast still waiting there.
“Something better. After you eat, we will attend to the rest,”
Jacques replied, allowing others to remove the bath and giving a warning look to the footman who cast a curious eye in Luc’s direction. “Sit, M’sieur d’Artois, and eat.”
Luc was happy to take that direction, and he took a chair at the table. “What’s the rest?” he said, unable to decide which dish he should attack first. Jacques decided for him, serving up a healthy slice of the perfectly prepared roast beef.
“You must be careful what you consume now. You must adjust to good food again, m’sieur,” Jacques said, buttering a roll while directing Luc to eat both the vegetables and fruit on the table.
Luc glanced up at Jacques and almost laughed. Careful? He intended to eat so much he did indeed get sick and then start all over again. What he discovered, however, was how very little it took to fill his belly. He was miserable just looking at how much he didn’t eat because he couldn’t. It wasn’t fair.
Jacques produced a pair of pants and a shirt, told Luc to dress, and said he would be back shortly. When Jacques opened the door to leave, Luc caught a glimpse of a man outside the door whom he assumed to be a guard. Once again, his suspicion was roused and defenses were up, and he dressed very quickly.
But what he put on was ridiculous. The shirt was too small and the pants too big and too short. The former he could scarcely fit into and certainly not button, and the latter he had to hold up to keep on.
When Jacques returned, saw Luc holding the bunched up waist of the pants, barefooted and barelegged from the knee down, he laughed. Luc glared at him, ready to take issue.
“Forgive me, m’sieur, it was all I could find,” Jacques said.
“But no matter. The tailor will be here soon to address the situation. Please sit, m’sieur, so the barber can attend you.”
A little man popped his head in the doorway. “Is it time?” he queried in French.
“Yes,” Jacques replied.
Luc eyed them both warily. “Did we cross the channel at some point?” he said.
“No. You are in England, m’sieur,” Jacques replied.
“But everyone’s French.”
“Because the English cannot be trusted,” Jacques said.
“I’ve heard that before.”
Several hours later, Luc had survived a haircut, a shave and the annoyance of being measured and pricked with pins by the tailor–also French. But by the early evening hours, he had clothes that fit, the finest pair of boots he had ever worn on his feet, and he was no longer blinded by an unruly mass of hair.
Still, when presented with the opportunity to view his appearance, Luc declined. He never wanted to look at himself again.
Laying out supper, Jacques said, “You are much improved, m’sieur.”
“I don’t believe in miracles,” Luc replied. Jacques shrugged and started to excuse himself, but Luc stopped him. “Can’t you stay and eat with me?” he said. “There’s enough here to feed a dozen people.”
“That would be inappropriate, M’sieur d’Artois,” Jacques said.
“I appreciate the sentiment, but recognize the charade.
Besides, I have a lot of questions.” Jacques studied him silently for a moment or two, and Luc rolled his eyes. “If you’re afraid I’m plotting against you, I’m sure that guard out there will be happy to slap those iron bracelets on me again…like he will tonight.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Because I know I’m still a prisoner. Oh yes, the prison is far more pleasant, but the bars are still there.”
Jacques pondered Luc a little longer before deciding to accept the invitation. Luc watched now with some fascination as Jacques tested the wine, took the time to appreciate the efforts of the chef in the preparation and presentation of the meal; and then finally, he took his first bite, savoring every moment of it.
Luc thought Jacques may be a butler and valet, but he presented himself like an old world aristocrat.
After allowing Jacques some pleasure in the meal, Luc started his questioning. “So,” he said, “do you know why I’m here?”
Jacques, with an arch of his brow, replied, “Do you know why you are here?”
“No…well, maybe…Not really, no.”
“You don’t remember Gabrielle Giraud?”
Luc smirked. “Oh yes, I remember her all right,” he said.
Though every time he recalled her beautiful voice, remembered the alluring scent of her, he forgot for a moment his fears about her intentions. Instead, his imagination created a woman no less beautiful than her voice and as alluring as her subtle perfume. “Too long in prison,” he told himself and remembered why she was not only to be feared, but despised as well.
“Then you know why you are here,” Jacques replied.
“No. What she proposed and why I’m here are two very different things.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We had an agreement, but I didn’t agree to what she’s really got in mind for me. So what’s your role in all this? To just clean me up, or do you also participate in her sick games? Whom does she fancy herself? The Marquise de Sade?”
Jacques almost spit out his wine as he sprang to his feet. “I beg your pardon, m’sieur!”
“Spare me the theatrics. You know who I am and why I was brought here.”
“I know, M’sieur d’Artois, that you are a mistake,” Jacques said. “Just as you are mistaken about Mademoiselle Giraud. You were brought here because you agreed to the marriage, and that is the only reason you are here!”
“Oh really? Well, I think you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes. The agreement between your Mademoiselle Giraud and me was not any of this. I only agreed to marry her, and in exchange, she was going to see to it that I got some relief from the abuse. That’s the whole of my agreement with Gabrielle Giraud.”
“Exactly,” Jacques snapped in response. “So why do you think her so despicable? Is she not keeping her word? Are you not comfortable here? You want another room, perhaps? Well, M’sieur d’Artois, take your pick! The house and the staff are at your disposal. Yes, you remain a prisoner, not of Mademoiselle Giraud, but of the English, and yet, a very comfortable one, I think.”
Throwing down his napkin, Jacques marched to the door.
Luc was on his feet as well.
“Wait!” he said. “Jacques, wait!”
Jacques drew in his breath before facing Luc again. “Yes, M’sieur d’Artois,” he replied through gritted teeth. “How can I serve you?”
Luc began searching Jacques’ eyes for the truth. “You’re telling me this is what she meant? When she said she would see me comfortable, this was what she meant? All of this just to marry me?”
“Not you, m’sieur, your name. She doesn’t want you in any way, sense, or possible fashion. She wants your name, and yes, this is what she meant when she gave you her word.” As he continued to speak, Jacques looked at Luc with a mixture of disgust and incredulity. “What did you think? That she would stand with you before a priest without all this? This is not only her promise to you, but to ensure you are able to confer what she requests from you. You have to appear to be a gentleman, or no priest will marry you.”
Luc sank back into his chair in wonder. “Well, I guess that makes sense, too,” he said, then looked at Jacques again.
Jacques recovered his composure somewhat, but he clearly still felt the insult to Gabrielle Giraud and raised his indignant chin. “Conceit,” he said, “like counsel from a fool, should be heard with a deaf ear, m’sieur.”
“That’s not what I…” Luc’s voice died as his face turned red.
“If not conceit, then what would prompt you to believe Mademoiselle Giraud has any interest in you as a man?”
The disgust in Jacques’ tone prompted Luc to turn his face away. “Not a man,” he said. “I know I’m not a man to her.”
Jacques didn’t reply, but Luc could feel the older man’s eyes upon him. He was waiting for an answer to his question. Luc felt another rush of humiliation sweep over him.
“It’s what they told me,” he said, looking every where but at Jacques.
“They are who?” Jacques said, then paused to smirk. “Of course, the prison guards, yes?”
Luc nodded again.
“And they told you what exactly?” Luc didn’t respond, but the renewed flush of red over his face prompted Jacques to laugh. “I see,” he said. “And you believe them? Men who treat you like an animal–you believe them?”
Luc glanced up at Jacques. “I don’t know who to believe anymore,” he said. “I guess I believe the worst, though, because it hasn’t disappointed me yet.”
“You should know, too, that the English…”
“Can’t be trusted,” Luc said.
“The first sensible thing you have said all evening, m’sieur.”
Jacques smiled faintly as he continued to speak. “So you are expecting the worst now, but I’m afraid this time you will be disappointed. Mademoiselle Giraud has no wish or intention to hurt you. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but especially not the man who has agreed to assist her.”
Luc shook his head a little. “That still doesn’t make sense to me. I mean why she is doing this. I know her reasons, but still…”
He stopped, looked at Jacques, and said, “Her father isn’t a cruel man, is he?”
“No, M’sieur d’Artois, he is not a cruel man. He is a man who loves his daughter very much, but more than that I am not at liberty to say.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘M’sieur d’Artois.’ My name is Luc.”
“I know, but given our respective positions…”
“I should be waiting on you,” Luc replied with a grin.
“You are Mademoiselle Giraud’s fiancée, and you must be shown all due respect.”
Luc’s eyes drifted about the room, seeing his past in the rich carpets on the floor and the expensive furnishings, remembering why he wasn’t still wallowing in filth and wearing rags. He couldn’t distinguish the truth from the charades his life had become.
“Well,” he said, “that’s fine in front of everyone else, but I would appreciate it if you would just address me by my name.”
Luc fixed a steady gaze upon Jacques. “I know I’m not your friend and a mistake besides, but you’re the first person in a long time to show me any form of respect.”
“Mademoiselle Gabrielle was not respectful?” Jacques said.
“No…I mean, yes, she was, but she’s a lady. She’s always going to be respectful–even to someone like me.”
Jacques almost smiled. “Indeed?”
“She talked to me, not at me, in spite of our respective positions. That’s how I know she’s a lady,” Luc said, thinking about his mother.
Jacques studied him for a moment or two, then said, “Well, young Luc, you surprise me again. I imagined I would be slaving away for weeks trying to teach you the most basic etiquette–how to behave properly, gentlemanly. But now that the effects of prison have been washed away, I can see you are not the ignorant or lowborn man I was expecting. That earns you some respect and gratitude as well. My work here will be substantially less than I anticipated, which means I shall have to find some other way to occupy my time.” He eyed Luc with an arched brow. “Are you perhaps familiar with the rules of chess?”
Luc broke out in a smile. “I am,” he said. “But if you want to challenge me, you better be prepared for defeat.”
Jacques shook his head, clicked his tongue, and returned to his seat. “Young men,” he said. “They never learn to respect their elders until they are old men themselves.” Then he proceeded to teach Luc a lesson about respect.
In the immediate days that followed, Luc lost the pallor of prison, regained his strength and appetite, and took advantage of every opportunity for daily exercise. He had to wear the manacles outside the house, and the guards accompanied him on his walks about the peaceful grounds of the estate, but Jacques kept the men at a distance. Luc could ignore the guards as he basked in the unusually warm sun of early spring, inhaling the fresh air he would never again take for granted.
“Where exactly are we? Or is that privileged information as well?” he said. “We must be some distance from London. The air is too clean.”
Jacques smiled. “We are situated in Kent,” he said.
Luc glanced back at the grand manor house. “Your Mademoiselle Giraud must be very well off to keep such a home.”
“This is not mademoiselle’s home,” Jacques replied. “She has no use for a permanent residence in England. Mademoiselle Gabrielle let the place, not for its grandeur, but for its proximity to Dover and, more importantly, Calais.”
Luc glanced over at him. “Is that where she is now–France?”
Jacques smiled in response, and Luc let go of a frustrated sigh.
“You won’t tell me that much?” he said. “It’s not like I can do anything with the information.”
“Then what is your interest in obtaining the information?”
“Curiosity, what else?” Luc said. “This woman, whom I wouldn’t know if she were right in front of me, proposes that I marry her because she likes my name. That’s it–no other reason.
Well, that and the fact that I’ll make her a widow pretty quick.”
Luc looked at Jacques again. “Do you understand? I don’t even know what she looks like.”
“Does it matter?”
Luc scowled. “Why do you always answer my questions with another question?”
Jacques chuckled. “Why do you persist in asking questions you know I’m not at liberty to answer?”
“Fine!” Luc retorted. “Keep your damn secrets, and I’ll keep believing the worst.”
They walked in silence for another half hour before Jacques made a peace offering. “Mademoiselle Gabrielle is the chatelaine of Château de la Mer. It’s her responsibility to maintain the stature of her father’s home.”
Luc thought for a moment, then he started to laugh. “You’re telling me she’s shopping,” he said. “She’s in Paris shopping. For what? What else besides a husband is on her list? A child or two?
A lover to comfort her after her husband dies?” Jacques glowered at him, but Luc only laughed harder. “That’s cold, very practical, but cold. Calculating, really, but I guess I already knew that about her.”
Jacques came to a halt and began adjusting his shirt cuffs.
“M’sieur d’Artois, I must tend to my duties,” he said. After a curt bow, he did an about face and marched towards the house.
“Jacques–wait!” Luc said, trying to stifle his laughter. He jogged to catch up to the indignant Frenchman and attempted to apologize. “I’m not saying I’m ungrateful. I very much appreciate her…practicality.”
“M’sieur d’Artois, you cannot, nor will you ever begin to, appreciate Mademoiselle Giraud,” Jacques said. “That is your misfortune. But I am not you, and I trust you will show me the courtesy of keeping your ignorance to yourself!”
Luc watched the angry man stomp the rest of the distance back to the house. In Jacques’ absence, the guards were on Luc’s heels. Frustrated and now feeling the pangs of regret, Luc followed Jacques’ lead.
Luc didn’t see Jacques for the remainder of the day, and that evening, Jacques declined to sit with him for dinner in spite of Luc’s sincerest attempts to apologize. Alone, Luc vacillated between sullenness and anger. Mademoiselle Giraud might very well be a saint to Jacques, but Luc d’Artois was only another item on her shopping list–like another pair of gloves she would use and carelessly discard.
How did Jacques think he should feel about that? Honored?
Proud? Luc was neither of those things. He was beginning to realize that he prostituted himself for a little comfort. He was just a whore of another kind, and the only thing he felt now was shame.
Luc was wallowing in that shame the next morning, and maybe that’s why he behaved like a crazed madman when a pair of footmen appeared at his bedroom door with a cheval mirror to replace the one he shattered. When he saw it, something snapped inside, and he began swearing, demanding the vile looking glass be taken away. Every mirror in the damn house should be put away, or he would break them all!
Luc caused such a disturbance he brought the guards running with Jacques on their heels. One swing of a club, and Luc dropped to the floor, unconscious. A couple more blows were struck across his shoulders before Jacques could intervene and take control of the situation.
Regaining consciousness, Luc felt the lump forming on the back of his head. Jacques helped him to his feet, but Luc couldn’t look at him. He went to the window instead where the peaceful English countryside reminded him again of all the illusions and lies swirling around him.
“You need to send me back,” Luc said. “I’m not going through with this, so just tell them to take me back.” Jacques didn’t respond, but instead busied himself with the breakfast dishes. “Did you hear me, Jacques? I’m not doing this. Send me back.”
“I can’t, m’sieur,” Jacques replied. “You will have to inform Mademoiselle Giraud of your decision yourself.”
Luc whirled around. “Then tell her to grant me an immediate audience to do so.”
Jacques shook his head. “I can’t do that either. The mademoiselle has her own schedule and obligations to satisfy.
You will have to wait a few more weeks, but I’m sure she will grant you an immediate audience when she arrives.”
“That defeats the purpose!” Luc retorted. “If I stay here, then she will have fulfilled her part of the bargain, which then obligates me to perform under the terms of our agreement.”
“I assure you, M’sieur d’Artois, Mademoiselle Gabrielle will respect your decision and comply with your wishes. So feel free to take advantage of your good fortune and the mademoiselle’s calculating naïveté.”
“No! Damn it, no!” Luc said. “I don’t want to take advantage of anything. That’s not who I am, and I don’t want to be what I am now.” He began searching Jacques’ eyes for understanding. “Don’t you see what I did when I agreed to this?
I bartered myself for a good meal and a soft bed. I can’t live with that. Between what they did to me and the shame of what I did to myself…Jacques, I can’t even look at myself. How am I supposed to stay here and live with this until the day they do hang me?”
Jacques’ cool indifference dissipated. He began shaking his head as he settled into one of the wing-backed chairs. He poured himself a glass of wine, took a sip, and then he eyed Luc.
“M’sieur,” he said, “you are a proud and, I dare say, honorable young man. But you have a remarkable amount of selfishness in you. You only see the world as it affects you. While I can’t speak in detail about Mademoiselle Giraud, I can tell you that she doesn’t think you a…prostitute. When you agreed to her proposition, you granted her a tremendous favor for which she is very grateful. You are giving her your name, which is something she cannot ever fully compensate you for. You look around and think this is too much. She would say it is not enough. She can never begin to repay you for what you will do for her.”
Luc’s brow furrowed. “But I don’t see any sacrifice on my part. My name is worthless, and I’m going to die anyway…” He stopped short and looked to Jacques for confirmation. “It’s really that important to her?” Jacques nodded and Luc said, “Is it because she can’t suffer the thought of marrying the man her father chose for her?”
“Details, Luc. I can’t give you details, but I can assure you Mademoiselle Gabrielle is not a petulant child rebelling against an overbearing father.”
Luc turned away from Jacques. He spoke more to himself than to Jacques when he said, “I’ve never made a difference to anyone. No one is going to give a damn when they execute me–
until now maybe. It will make a difference to Mademoiselle Gabrielle when I hang. I guess that’s something, better than dying for no reason.” He turned back to Jacques, who was studying him with a somewhat pained expression. “What?” Luc said.
Jacques started to speak, then stopped. He looked away and asked if he could now replace the mirror.
“No! I may be doing a favor for the lady, but nothing else has changed.”
“Luc, that man in the mirror before was not you, and he is not in the mirror anymore.”
Luc shook his stubborn head. “He’s always going to be there staring back at me.”
“Well then, I suppose I shall have to shave your face for you,” Jacques said. “It’s time. Perhaps it is acceptable in America, but here, a gentleman can’t go so long without shaving.
Now if you sit very still for me, I will give you chocolate afterwards.”
Luc glowered in response. “I’m not a little boy to be bribed into good behavior,” he said.
“When you behave like a little boy, you will be treated like a little boy.”
Luc was about to comment further until he recognized his petulance was only proving Jacques’ point. Scowling, he said,
“I’ll do it myself.”
Jacques left him for a few minutes, then he returned with a table mirror and razor. Luc hesitated to make use of either. But Jacques got him moving when he raised the razor with a dramatically trembling hand.
“Shall I proceed, m’sieur?” Jacques said.
Snatching the razor from him, Luc allowed Jacques to place the mirror in front of him while he averted his gaze and mentally prepared himself. Then he faced the monster he remembered as himself, but the reflection he expected wasn’t in the mirror. Yes, there was still some bruising, some small cuts still healing, but this face he recognized.
“This is Luc d’Artois, I think,” Jacques said.
Luc said nothing in response as he began scraping the scruff from his face.
Other than the fact that the guards insisted on chaining Luc up at night and when he left the confines of the house, time in Kent passed pleasantly. With Jacques’ companionship, along with the smiles and admiring eyes of the maids, Luc received a much needed boost to his self-esteem and self-confidence. At the same time, however, he was counting down the days left in paradise, and now there was only one left. He wondered how it would all be concluded.
Would Gabrielle sweep into the house tomorrow, the vows quickly exchanged, and then he sent on his way? He hoped she would at least allow him a few minutes of private conversation.
“Damn it!” Luc said, studying the board and trying to figure out where he made his first mistake.
“Another brief diversion,” Jacques observed. “But at least you kept me entertained for a quarter of an hour–a milestone for you.”
“How do you do it? How do you keep beating me?”
Jacques eyed him with the now expected arch of his brow.
“You still think I should collapse in fear of your tremendous intellect…or rather, arrogance?” He reassembled the pieces for another game, unintimidated by Luc’s glare as well. “I’ve been playing this game longer than you have been alive–maybe twice as long.”
“Granted, but still…”
“Luc, perhaps if you spent less time thinking about winning and tried instead your hand at learning, your game would improve.”
Luc felt the smile tugging at his lower lip in spite of himself.
He focused on the board again, but with each passing moment, his face became more somber in its expression. Then abruptly, he rose to his feet and left the table.
“Can we walk instead?” he said, glancing back over his shoulder at Jacques.
The older man lowered his gaze and replied. “If you prefer.”
Luc knew Jacques wasn’t keen on the idea because it meant the manacles would be brought out again. Jacques seemed to mind the iron bracelets more than Luc did. To accommodate Jacques, Luc asked that his wrists be fastened behind his back. It was more uncomfortable, and his wrists were raw because of it, but Jacques was spared the discomfort of having to look at the chains. Luc could do that much for the man.
“My days in the sun are numbered,” Luc said.
So after being properly restrained, Luc and Jacques made another tour of the grounds, but alone this time. The guards were too lazy to walk again, and in truth, they doubted their prisoner would harm the old frog (as they referred to Jacques) and attempt to escape.
They walked in silence for some time before Luc said, “It’s certain she’s arriving tomorrow?”
“Yes. I expect her quite early tomorrow morning,” Jacques replied.
“I expect then the ceremony will be brief, and this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way…back to where I belong.”
“I don’t know what’s planned, but I know you don’t belong there,” Jacques said. He stopped walking and faced Luc. “I expected you to declare your innocence, but you say only that you are prepared to hang for the crimes you were convicted of. I know what those crimes are, and I don’t believe you capable of committing those acts.”
“I’ll hang for those acts just the same,” Luc replied, then smiled rather wistfully. “I don’t know if I’m dreading tomorrow or not. Part of me just can’t quite believe what’s happening…what’s going to happen when I leave here. The other part of me knows what’s coming and believes Gabrielle Giraud was the worst mistake I ever made. This agreement is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Coming here, I inflicted an entirely different torture upon myself, but torture just the same. I was prepared to die. I wanted to die. But a month away from the misery that made me ready and willing to die allowed my mind to play a cruel joke on me. It made me forget the misery and why I wanted to die.” Luc glanced over at Jacques and grinned.
“But I’m not too worried about it. I suspect once I’m back there and far away from here, I’ll remember soon enough, and I won’t be sorry to die.”
Jacques didn’t smile. His kind eyes were watering, and Luc had to look away.
“Will you do something for me?” Luc said.
“Yes,” Jacques replied, his voice sounding strained.
“There’s a letter I want you to send for me, but you have to promise to send it at least a year from now.”
Luc nodded. “I haven’t written it yet, but I’m going to. It’s a letter to my father that I’ve been trying to write for a couple weeks now. I was going to tell him the truth about everything. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I mean what he doesn’t know can’t hurt or shame him. So I’m just going to write, tell him I got married, and that I won’t be coming home.”
“No explanation why?”
“He’ll know why–or assume he knows why.”
“Then why wait so long to send it?” Jacques said.
“Because of my mother. She’s going to write me, and her letter has got to get to you.” Luc looked at Jacques, his gaze a bit more intense when he said, “You understand what I’m saying?”
“I’m saying that she has to have some place to send her letter, and when that letter comes to you, addressed to me, that’s when you need to reply and inform her I’m dead.”
“But why me?” Jacques said, quite distressed now. “You think I want to be the one to break your mother’s heart?”
“You have to be the one because Gabrielle Giraud won’t…She doesn’t know anything about me other than my name and my crimes. Jacques, I’m not asking you to praise me or lie for me. You don’t even have to be kind to her. I just want you to tell her…Just tell her I’m dead, and I was bad at chess.
That’s it. That’s all I’m asking.” Luc searched Jacques’ eyes for a promise. “Will you do that for me…please?”
Jacques hesitated, but couldn’t refuse such a request. “Yes, M’sieur d’Artois,” he said, with a slight bow.
Luc smiled. “Just Luc will do.” He paused then said, “Any words of wisdom…for tomorrow I mean? Any advice?”
Jacques met Luc’s eyes with all seriousness and replied,
“Prepare to be shocked.”
Luc nodded his understanding, remembering the heavy veil and shapeless garment Mademoiselle Gabrielle concealed herself with. He allowed himself to imagine she was some sort of fairy princess, but he knew that was not the case. She said there was much wrong with her, and Jacques just confirmed that. But Luc would remember it was because of a generous heart, not a beautiful face that he would die with his dignity intact.
Jacques selected Luc’s clothes for what was to be his wedding day. After his bath, Luc dressed, deciding the ceremony was meant to be without much ceremony. He wasn’t wearing anything particularly special or formal–just the usual day attire.
Still, he laughed a little. Even when he was a rich man’s son, he had never worn clothes that fit him so well. Now he was a convict on the brink of execution. It would be a very well dressed convict who swung from the gallows…unless, of course, Mademoiselle Gabrielle demanded he return the clothes once the vows were spoken.
After Luc dressed, Jacques left, and a guard came to manacle and shackle him. Luc released his breath. He had hoped Jacques would be able to convince the mademoiselle that Luc d’Artois was not the animal she saw in prison. It seemed he would have to suffer the shame of being shuffled down the steps instead.
The guard warned him, “One peep from the lady, and you’ll be going to the gallows somewhat less than a man.”
Luc smirked. “So she has ordered me castrated if I don’t behave.”
“She didn’t order it, dog,” the guard said. “It’ll be all my pleasure to give you what you deserve.” Then he left Luc alone with his thoughts.
Luc caught his reflection in the mirror, wondering what Gabrielle Giraud would think when she saw him. Jacques teased him to no end about his appearance, but in a complimentary way.
“Luc,” Jacques said, “you will break every one of their hearts when you say ‘I do.’” He was referring to the maids, who became flustered and giggled whenever Luc addressed or acknowledged one of them.
Luc’s face turned a little red when he snapped in response,
“Did Mademoiselle Gabrielle tell you to toady up to me, too?”
Jacques laughed. “I’m only making a pertinent observation, m’sieur.”
Luc rolled his eyes. “Quite an accomplishment–impressing the scullery maid,” he said.
He knew better than to believe there was any truth in Jacques’ observations. His appearance never helped him win over anyone. Indeed, the only respect and admiration he ever garnished was due to his father and family, and he managed to lose that admiration and respect long before the English had their say.
As he looked at himself now, Luc wasn’t wondering if Gabrielle Giraud would think him handsome. His ambition was not so high. He only hoped that she was not put off by his appearance, that she might see he wasn’t quite the monster he appeared to be when he was in that cell. Maybe then she would allow him to speak with her before he was sent off to be executed for being a monster.
His eyes rested on the restraints, and he looked away, shaking his head. The chains would remind her he was a monster, a despicable, depraved degenerate. He almost laughed at his ridiculousness. Handsome? The finest clothes couldn’t conceal the brand he wore now, the one forever attached to his name. He was Luc d’Artois, convicted rapist and murderer of children. “Yes,” he thought, “Nothing’s changed. I’m still ready to die.”
Luc couldn’t pace, couldn’t move to do much of anything, so he dropped into a chair to wait and wonder. What was the delay?
Was she late? Had she changed her mind and thought better of this ludicrous scheme? Maybe they were readying the wagon–
wanted to be ready to whisk him away as soon as the deed was done. But she had to allow him a minute to speak to her. Before or after the vows, it didn’t matter. After all, she was safe. He was restrained.
There was a soft knock on the door, and he thought,
“They’ve come for me.” Then another even softer knock followed.
“Jacques?” he called.
“No,” was the response. “It’s Gabrielle Giraud. May I speak with you, M’sieur d’Artois?” she queried in French.
Wholly unprepared for this scenario, Luc found himself stammering as he rose from his seat. “Yes…Oui!”
The door opened only wide enough to allow Mademoiselle Giraud to enter. She closed the door behind her and faced him–
in a manner of speaking. He couldn’t see her face because of the hood and the bow of her head. And as before, her cloak hid the rest of her as well.
“Thank you, M’sieur d’Artois, for granting me audience.”
She spoke in English now, and his recollection of her beautiful voice was not exaggerated. With her accent, it was like listening to poetry…No more lyrical than that even. Her voice was like music to his ears.
“I wanted to speak with you, too,” he said, wondering if it would be appropriate to urge her to lower her “shield.”
Then the hood was pulled back, and she lifted her face to his. But the shock she sent through him was not the one he had prepared himself for. This shock took his breath away, and he couldn’t keep from staring.
It seemed they were staring at each other, for she suddenly averted her eyes and blushed with embarrassment. “Forgive me, M’sieur d’Artois,” she said. “You are…much younger than I believed.”
“You are what I believed only existed in dreams.”
She looked up at him, hesitantly. “Pardon?”
Luc could feel his face turn sanguine. He dropped his head for a moment to regroup
“Nothing,” he replied. “I didn’t know what to expect with you.”
She gave him a little smile and asked if she might remove her cloak.
“Yes! Forgive me…” he said. Forgetting the chains, Luc moved to assist her. He nearly fell on his face. Thoroughly humiliated, he looked away. “You will have to pardon me again.”
He heard the door open, and his head snapped up, a plea that she not leave so abruptly forming on his lips. But she spoke first, not to him, but to the guard outside the door.
She gave the guard an earful in French before she snapped in English, “The key, you imbecile!”
He produced the key, and she snatched it from him. Then she directed him to remove himself from the premises at once, or be prepared to explain to his superior why he received only half of what was promised. Slamming the door shut in the guard’s face, she approached Luc.
“M’sieur d’Artois, I beg your pardon. This is not…English fools never do anything right!”
Luc watched her unlock the manacles on his wrists. After helping him to remove them, she dropped to her knees to unlock the irons about his ankles.
“No!” he said, drawing her up to her feet. “I can do it.”
Luc freed himself, then offered her the key. But she was looking instead at the rawness of the flesh on his wrists. She pressed her fingers to her lips and met his eyes. Luc told himself he only imagined seeing tears sparkling in her eyes. She turned away, went to the door, and rang for a maid, who promptly appeared. She instructed that fresh water and bandages be brought at once, and with her back to Luc, she waited for the maid to return.
A few minutes of dead silence passed. Luc didn’t know what to say. The maid returned; Gabrielle took the pitcher and bandages, then dismissed the servant. She set the pitcher and bandages aside, and she faced Luc again.
“Please, m’sieur, sit.”
“May I help you with your cloak first?”
She looked down and saw she was still wearing her cloak.
“Oh!” she said, then she looked up. She bestowed upon him a disarming smile, so brilliant and engaging, he felt a lump form in his throat and his knees turn to water. Silently, he was damning himself again.
“Thank you, yes,” she said.
He stood behind her, inhaling the scent of her as she unfastened the frog on her cloak. When the cloak slipped off her shoulders, Luc found his eyes traveling from the middle of her head, where the intricate plaiting of her golden brown hair began, downward to the small of her back where the thick braid ended in a tuft of waves several inches longer. She turned around to face him again and caught him staring.
He couldn’t help but stare while he sank into her soulful eyes. In a matter of moments, every detail of her appearance was etched into his memory–the fringe of bangs that caressed her gentle, arching brows, the wisps of honey hair that escaped the braid and framed her face…And what a face he gazed upon now.
He saw her beauty in the tawny glow of her peaches and cream complexion, the rosy hue of her lips, but it was her eyes…
“Something is wrong?” she said, touching her cheek. “My face is dirty?”
He shook his head, embarrassed again. “No, I…I was…Your hair is…”
She looked away. “I know,” she said. “I’m hardly presentable. Yvette took ill crossing from Calais, and I was left to my own devices.”
“Don’t apologize. You look very well.”
From under a black fan of thick, long lashes, she looked up at him. “You are very forgiving M’sieur d’Artois. Will you sit now?” she said, reaching for a soft cloth to dip in the warm water she poured into a bowl.
Now he understood she meant to tend to his injuries, and he started to insist it wasn’t necessary, then stopped himself. He complied with her request, watching her gently push back his coat and shirt cuffs.
“You’ve just arrived from France?” he said, holding his breath a little when her tender fingers touched his skin.
“From your home?”
“What’s in Paris?”
She glanced up at him and smiled a little impishly now. “You mean other than my couturier?”
He grinned. “I should have guessed that.”
“And I admit I’m terrible. I try to justify myself by saying I don’t come to Paris so much, so I must be permitted to spoil myself. But the truth is, I’ve sailed to France several times since the wars ended. And even worse. Though I buy a new wardrobe when I come Paris, I bring home enough fabric to have two more wardrobes made. But there I can justify some of the expense. The sheer silks and lawn are necessary to withstand the warmer climate, but so delicate that dresses must be replaced.”
Luc frowned. “You sail to France?” he said. “I understood you were French.”
“I am, but home is Martinique. My father’s home, Château de la Mer, is just outside Saint-Pierre,” she said, now ever so gently wrapping the bandages about his wrists. “So you might also guess it was not just for me that I was shopping. Papa had a long list; all my friends gave me lists, the shopkeepers…wine, champagne, cheese, books, crystal, lace…goats.”
“Goats?” he said.
“For a special cheese, and the goats must come from France.
Creole goats are not quite good enough, I suppose.” Gabrielle shrugged a little. “Anyway, Jacques says I will need to charter my own ship to carry home everything I’ve collected this past year.
But it’s not really so much as that.”
Luc realized just how close he hit the nail on the head with respect to her reasons for being in Paris, but he had no inclination to be snide with Gabrielle Giraud about her shopping list. His eyes drifted over her again. This time he noted the simplicity of her chocolate silk gown. Of course, he wouldn’t ordinarily notice anything about a woman’s dress other than perhaps the color. Otherwise, a dress, any dress, was only as pretty as the woman wearing it. He took note of this dress, however, simply because it proved, in no uncertain terms, that Gabrielle Giraud needed no adornment, nor had she any reason not to be pleased with her couturier. The cut of the cloth was superior. The dress displayed with every advantage to her (and without loss of modesty) the curve of her breasts, the smallness of her waist (thank God women had a waistline again, he thought) and the slenderness of her hips.
“Am I hurting you?” she said.
“No, not at all. And I have to agree the Paris fashions are most becoming on you,” he said with a smile.
“Ah, but I did not say they were becoming on me.”
“Then I will say it. Though I suspect you could wear a sack and still turn the heads of tin soldiers.”
She blushed as she laughed. “As generous as you are forgiving, I think.” Finishing the bandaging, she looked at him and said, “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She shook her head in response. “Don’t thank me, M’sieur d’Artois. I’m so sorry. I told them, and Jacques, too, you must be well cared for…shown every possible courtesy and respect.”
“Jacques has been very good to me, but did you really think the guards wouldn’t employ some form of restraint?”
“Perhaps to make sure I didn’t escape.”
She nearly rolled her eyes. “We made a bargain,” she said.
“You gave me your word. Besides, if Jacques thought for a moment you could not be trusted, he would have sent you back to that prison.”
“He could have done that?” Luc replied, sharply, distinctly recalling Jacques saying something quite to the contrary.
“Yes. It was part of my agreement with Jacques and Yvette.
They would not assist me otherwise. Jacques said I was a poor judge of character to make this agreement with you, and he must be allowed to protect me from myself. He was certain you would try to escape or…Well, it doesn’t matter. You are still here, which means my judgment was not so poor. Jacques believes you can be trusted, so I have no reason not to trust you, too.”
Luc took in all this new information, but he didn’t try to process it all. Instead, he focused on Gabrielle.
“You aren’t even a little afraid to be left alone with me?”
“No,” she said, rising to her feet. “Tea, m’sieur, or maybe wine?”
“Wine, if it’s all the same to you,” he replied, eyeing her with increasing perplexity.
She rang for service, then idly began rearranging the flowers in the vase on a side table. “So you are an American,” she said.
“Virginian,” he replied.
“That is south, yes? I hear a difference in your English.”
“You mean my drawl,” he said with a lazy grin.
She nodded. “I’ve met Americans like you before, but I’ve never been to America. It’s much closer to Martinique, but still, I’ve never been.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “It’s beautiful–Virginia?”
Gabrielle turned to him. Her eyes drifted over him, and a smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “Will you tell me about Virginia?” she said.
Gazing at her, Luc found it a little difficult to concentrate on a response to her request. There were far more pleasant thoughts to be had other than thoughts of home.
“What do you want to know?”
She shrugged lightly. “I wouldn’t know what to ask. I know so little. Still, I wonder about places like Virginia.”
“Because I’m curious. Do you think that’s bad?”
“Why would curiosity be bad?”
“Because I’m a woman.”
“Women aren’t supposed to be curious?”
She smiled. “I’m told women are better off ignorant.”
“I don’t agree,” he said. “Nothing is ever made better through ignorance.”
She tilted her head slightly, smiling again when she said,
“Some would say ignorance is easier, especially where women are concerned.”
He laughed and said, “That observation is open to many interpretations, but like ignorance, what’s easy isn’t always better…or right. And sometimes, easy is just lazy.”
“Does that mean what is difficult is better?”
“Not always, but I think if you have to work for something you want, you appreciate it much more. It means more because you earned it.”
“I think you are correct, but it’s very American. In Europe, what matters most is what you are given at birth–your name, your family, your station, your wealth.”
Luc grinned. “I suspect it’s because those things are what matter most in Europe that there is an America.”
Gabrielle laughed. “I think you are correct again,” she said.
“So tell me about America, your home.”
Luc thought for a moment before he replied, “My family has a couple of pretty good-sized plantations on the James River–
cash crops.” He smiled faintly. “It all started with tobacco, but my father saw the light, and now there’s more wheat, corn, and oats than tobacco growing in his fields.”
“Why does that make you smile?”
“Well, you might say my father and I don’t always agree about everything.”
Her eyes grew warm when she said, “Ah, so you are saying you convinced him to change his ways.”
Luc nodded a little sheepishly. “Guess I wanted to prove to him I learned something in spite of all expectations to the contrary.”
She waited for him to say more, but he didn’t want to explain to Gabrielle Giraud why his reputation back home was somewhat less than sterling. So he steered away from that subject.
“And just before I left home, I bought my own land,” he said.
“For another plantation?”
“No, horses,” he replied. “That’s why I came to England. I had my land, but I still needed my horses and that meant Tattersall’s.”
Gabrielle nodded in understanding, and it was then Luc wished he had not taken the conversation in this direction. He just put himself in the wretched position of explaining why he never made it to a Tattersal