Chapter Promo On Eat Sleep Write
*This originally posted here, but I will post it below as well.
Upon Your Return - Chapter 1 by Marie Lavender
September 11, 2013 by Adam
Upon Your Return - Chapter 1 by Marie Lavender
September 11, 2013 by Adam
April 12, 1863
“Oh, dear, did you see the Follets the other day? I'm surprised they have the nerve to show their faces.”
Fara Bellamont nodded to Juliet Masson and attempted a smile. The chandelier lighting cast a harsh light over the dinner party this evening. The tapestry panels about the room depicted a floral motif; huge bouquets of flowers against a crimson and ivory background. There were twelve people at the dining table, mostly comprised of her uncle's business partners and their wives and daughters. There were also a few available gentlemen whom her uncle occasionally consorted with.
She then heard an unforgivable giggle from her female companion. Focusing her attention on her plate of chicken almondine and roasted potatoes, she tried to ignore the ruckus the lady to her left caused. Juliet must have had too much wine; most young women her age refused to gossip at dinner parties, especially if men were present. Usually that kind of talk was reserved for the parlor or at tea.
The woman began to laugh uncontrollably. “Oh, Monsieur! You are too much!”
Good Lord. What is she about? Fara hadn't heard either a flattering or humorous comment all evening. Most of the talk had been about the political uncertainty, it being a time of war. The gentlemen were concerned about invasion. Surprise attacks were known to happen, especially if the emperor's ambitions were getting out of hand.
The gentleman to her right brushed against the sleeve of her dress. She saw his apologetic gaze as she jerked away. When his eyes did not leave hers, an uneasy feeling began in her stomach. She was not used to men looking at her. It had only been a year since her season celebration and though she had danced with many men that night, none had approached her uncle with an offer. She had almost forgotten that look until now.
A year had passed since she'd returned to the estate to resume her place as lady of the house. The nuns had given her uncle a full report on the progress she'd made during the nine years she spent at Cluny Abbey in Burgundy.
Fara had hated leaving Helene behind, seeing as she was the only companion she'd found at the convent. Helene, a bright eyed but dark-headed girl with quite a knack for making trouble, had to stay another year to finish her training. The nuns claimed her friend had yet to be tamed.
Fara had learned how to be a lady in the years she was at the convent. She also learned that her fate, to be a wife and a mother, was inevitable. She remembered the nights in the mission as she lay in bed, staring up at the barred window which stood too high for any human being to reach.
She would lay awake and wonder if there was more to it all than what she'd been told, if perhaps somewhere, even away from French boundaries, there was a better reason she was alive. She dreamed that the sea held her fate, like her parents; perhaps that was the only place she would ever feel free.
Then, there were the nights she and Helene would stay up, scheming their escape from the convent, planning their whole lives and filling them with excitement and adventure. Helene would go on about how Fara could become a seamstress and she could sell the dresses. However, Sister Marguerite would click down the hallway in her black polished heels and peek in the doorway for a head check. The girls would squeeze their eyes shut, covered up in sheets, and as the nun turned away, they would as well. They both knew there would be no escape from the lives planned out for them
There was only marriage. Sometimes she still caught herself dreaming of a way out of her life, or at least a distraction. Perhaps an adventure of some kind that would make this life seem less futile.
Fara startled at the tinkle of metal tapping glass. Her uncle, seated at the head of the table, cleared his throat, and then stood and bowed to his guests. He cleared his throat again. “Let's turn the conversation to a lighter note, shall we? I would like to propose a toast to Monsieur Le Croíx, my fair niece, and their coming nuptials.”
She nearly choked on the bite of chicken. As she reached for her wine in a panic, there was a rumble of agreement from the guests and a few ladies chattered quietly after this announcement.
A sudden shiver came over Fara as she took in the unexpected news. Just like that, he decided her future. She was given no say in the matter. She didn't even have time to devise a plan of escape.
Her uncle had obviously been planning this announcement for some time. But, why had he not stated the point of tonight's dinner? He had simply instructed her to plan a meal that would be fit for some well-known ladies and gentleman, nothing more. She had taken it upon herself to be sure the silver was polished, the dishes sparkling and the dining room was laid out with fresh flowers adorning the long table. New tapestries had been hung, and the white silk tablecloth could hardly go unnoticed. She had not, however, imagined it would be for this sort of event. If she had known, she could have done more, or less, she supposed depending on her feelings concerning the matter.
She turned to the man at her left, her supposed fiancé. He nodded to the gentleman across the table with whom he engaged in conversation. Fara regarded him beneath the cover of her eyelashes. He wasn't tall, yet his looks held a peculiar innocence. He seemed rather young for a suitor, perhaps a couple years above twenty, but well-endowed financially. Le Croíx was a known name in La Rochelle, and there were rumors that the family had ties to the crown. Her uncle had chosen him, she supposed, because he was among society's elite in France. Beyond that, she knew nothing else about him; however, her uncle would certainly have something to say if she made an issue of it.
She jerked to attention at her uncle's tone and focused on his set face. “Oui, oncle?”
“Will you not escort the ladies to the parlor for tea?”
She nodded, “Of course,” and rose to fulfill her duties as lady of the house. She detested the pointless chatter and gossip that masqueraded as conversation. She could remind her uncle that dessert had not yet been served, but that was pointless too. She'd lost her appetite.
* * * *
In the parlor, Madame Masson continued her grating laughter as she found humor in one of the servants who had dropped a tray. After the mess was cleared, Fara waved the girl away. She shook her head at Juliet.
Mademoiselle Fournier, who had attended the dinner with her mother, leaned forward. “Mademoiselle Bellamont, you must tell us more about Jean Le Croíx. How did you meet?”
“I am afraid there is very little to tell. I do not know the man.”
Most of the ladies nodded. Women were often raised with the knowledge that their future husbands would be chosen for them. It was not anything new.
Madame Masson scoffed, “Surely you must have something to tell. Perhaps he took you into a corner, and your uncle discovered it? You cannot be so innocent, chère.”
Fara clenched her jaw before scolding her. “Madame, please. This is not at all appropriate. And I have only entertained him in the presence of my uncle.”
Other remarks were made, some more obscene. Her cheeks flamed.
After she'd endured enough of those women, their ravings and cruel gossip, her fiancé appeared in the doorway. Desperate for a distraction, she strode to him, calling over her shoulder, “Pardonnez moi, Mesdames...” She reached him and muttered, “Mon Dieu, you do not know what a bore these ladies have become.” She eyed the sudden pallor of his face and wondered what he was thinking.
“Oui, I can imagine. Mademoiselle, I must speak with you.”
She smiled. “Surely we should not be so formal now. We are to be married after all, Jean.”
His lips thinned until they were pale and then he took her elbow. “Accompany me to the veranda, Fara...”
As he led her away, her eyes searched his face for something her uncle must have overlooked...malice, perhaps. When they reached the veranda, she pulled away from his biting grasp. “You're hurting me.”
He stepped back, studying her face. “I am sorry, Mademoiselle. It is only that we are to be wed in two weeks.”
“Oui,” she replied, feeling numb all over by his sudden show of violence and his apparent perplexity of the situation.
“I want you to be honest with me, Fara. I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the truth.”
“All right.” She looked up into his face and saw panic and desperation. But, what was causing it?
“Do you love me, Fara?” he asked softly.
She gasped. “We've barely just met. We don't know anything about each other...”
“Answer the question, Mademoiselle.”
His fingers were once again biting into her flesh and she felt a surge of pity for this man she did not know. “I do not love you, Jean Le Croíx.”
Her breath caught. How could a man expect that kind of feeling at a moment's notice, without having had some kind of affiliation beforehand? Was he mad? Then again, perhaps he held romantic illusions, and believed, as very few did, in love at first sight. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I cannot. Not now, at this moment in time.” She knew it would hurt him, but didn't know how to fix it without lying to him. It was true, however; she could not love a man she did not know or felt absolutely nothing for.
“Mon Dieu!” Jean's eyes closed briefly, he let out a long string of curses and turned away, striding back the way he came.
Fara winced and lowered her eyes to the floor. She had seen the shock entering his eyes, and the pain that followed thereafter. She felt poor for how honest she'd been toward him, but he deserved the truth. It was up to him whether he blamed her for it or not.
She felt the imprint his fingers left in the flesh of her arms and attributed it to his reaction to her admission. She might well have bruises by the morrow, but she no doubt deserved that. Fara had been very honest with her fiancé, and ladies were supposed to ply gentleman with smiles and ready agreements. At the same time, she could not imagine why he would ask her such a question when they barely knew one another. Something about the exchange was very odd.
* * * *
The following evening, Fara sat reading from Madame Bovary when Rosalie knocked on her door.
She lifted her head. “What is it?”
“Mademoiselle, a messenger brought this for you.” The woman entered the room and approached her mistress. “It is from Monsieur Le Croíx.”
“Merci, Rosalie.” She retrieved the letter from her nursemaid and opened it once she had left the room. Inside was a scrawling script which she had to squint to read.
Would you accept my apology about what happened last night? I don't know what possessed me. I would like to make up my poor behavior to you. I would be very grateful if you met me at the harbor tonight on pier two at nine o'clock. If you are not up to appearing, I will certainly understand.
Your fiancé, Jean Le Croíx
She read over the note once more. It was an odd request, to be sure. She frowned, bit her lip a little. At the same time, she felt some amount of guilt for being so honest, even though saying otherwise the evening before would have been worse, and she had to trust that Jean meant well by his apology. Perhaps it would be all right to meet him. Besides, they needed to overcome this dilemma before the wedding. She made certain she had enough time to get there, wrapped a shawl about her shoulders and exited the house quietly. “Pierre!” she called.
The man appeared as he rounded the corner from the stables. He frowned. “Mademoiselle? It is late. Is something wrong?”
“I wish to take a ride tonight. Would you escort me to the harbor? I am to meet someone.”
His face hardened and he frowned as if he didn't approve of the idea, but, since she was his mistress, he had no choice. He nodded and helped her into the carriage. Pierre climbed up on the seat and propelled the carriage forward.
It was dark as she looked out the opening of the carriage. There were men hanging about the local pubs, no doubt in search of their own pleasures with women like dames de nuit. Somehow the atmosphere about the town grew darker. It was different from when she visited in daylight. Here, there were all kinds of things to watch for. She was not that naïve. She had often found herself browsing her uncle's personal stash of literature, which included even nefarious titles and questionable illustrations.
She knew she should let Pierre accompany her inside the docks for safety's sake, but she needed to speak to Jean alone. Finally, they reached the harbor and she called ahead, “Pierre, stop here at the entrance.”
He complied, parking where she'd told him. He stepped down and then helped her to step down as well, and offered her his arm. “I will escort you.”
“No, Pierre. Stay. I must go alone for this meeting.”
“You heard me.”
He frowned. “Monsieur Bellamont will not be pleased if I do not accompany you.”
“I am aware.”
He nodded grimly. “If anything happens…”
She lifted an eyebrow in inquiry. “Alert my uncle at once.” Then she turned and proceeded to find the right pier.
Pier one. Fara passed it and shivered in her evening dress. The wind picked up. April was always a chilly month. Fara felt the same eeriness at the docks as she had felt going through town. Desolation crept inside her as she glanced about her. Distantly, she heard the occasional shout of men working on the ships docked there. She passed one now and then, moving crates while others held lanterns to see. They looked worn and their clothes held the grime of days of soil and the lack of bathing facilities. She wrinkled her nose. She caught their leering glances, but sidestepped them well enough. Of all the places to meet, why had Jean chosen here?
She had to stay focused. When she reached pier two, she was not sure whether she should walk the pier or wait at the entrance. She did know the ground was filthy and her slippers were soiled. She sighed and hoped her fiancé would soon show. He was a young man. Could he be naïve as well? Could he truly know nothing about the peril surrounding the harbor and its inhabitants?
She still envisioned his sad eyes, seeing the pain she'd inflicted when she could not tell him what he wished to hear. She did not love him, but she could have softened her admission with gentler words. At least she should have avoided being so definite with her answer, or perhaps have offered him hope of the possibility of love in their future. He might be more of a sensitive man. She didn't know him at all. What was her uncle thinking, suiting her up with a man she barely knew? And how well did he even know Monsieur Le Croíx?
Fara shifted uncomfortably on her feet. Her stomach churned. She'd been waiting awhile for him. It seemed at least ten minutes had passed since she'd been left at the entrance to the docks. Surely Jean Le Croíx would not desert her, leave her alone in this place?
But then, he might be capable of anything. What if he'd asked her to come and then decided against going himself? No, he was not like that. She was being silly. But how could she be sure? The man had only visited the house three times before the announcement of their betrothal. And she'd had no idea she was supposed to marry the man at the time. She simply thought she was entertaining one of her uncle's acquaintances. The times she'd spent with him were hardly enough to discern any kind of opinion about him.
Jean Le Croíx, son of two deceased parents, survived on his father's estate. René Le Croíx, Jean's late father, had been a successful merchant. Jean would know his way around the harbor, considering his father's profession. But these were just details. They said nothing about the character of the man her fiancé was. Of that, she knew nothing.
Why in God's name would Jean Le Croíx ask to meet her here of all places? She had heard tales about what happened to good people who dared set foot around the harbor at night. Theft, rape, death. This was a very bad idea. Surely Monsieur Le Croíx knew the dangers. What if he was a rascal indeed? What if he'd meant for her to be alone at the pier?
A shiver slowly crept up her spine. It wasn't the implications of that thought which plagued her. It was the feel of something or someone close by. Were those footsteps she heard behind her or on another pier?
“Jean? Is that you?” She tried to slow her breathing, which came in rapid pants. “Jean?” She stiffened. “Jean Le Croíx, are you there? You'd better come out.” As she turned, her elbow brushed something and she recoiled, falling against a wall. No, not a wall. Terror ripped through her as she realized a pair of arms enclosed around her.
“Lovely lady. You're looking for someone, I presume? Well, Monsieur Le Croíx thought you'd be better off in our hands.”
Our hands? She tried to jerk away from him, but he was too strong. “Let me go, I-I demand it.”
Laughter erupted nearby and a figure loomed before her. Another man appeared and licked his lips lasciviously. “Oui, Monsieur Le Croíx believed us quite capable once he dished out the finances required. We may have gotten a poor bargain, Bernard. She could be worth far more.”
The man grunted in agreement.
Mon Dieu, she thought. Jean had hired them! For what exactly? To kill her? Her stomach rolled as she imagined all the things they might do to her.
“Please, I'll do anything. Not this…” She shook her head.
“The lady is smart, Bernard. We must watch her.”
“Please. My…m-my uncle,” she stammered.
“I'm terribly sorry, chère. Your uncle has nothing to do with our pleasure.”
“But…” She swallowed her fear. “Ransom…if you ask for a ransom, he'll give it to you. I promise. Anything.”
“No doubt your uncle is a wealthy man and you might fetch a fair price. But, what we're looking for you cannot buy.” He laughed. “In most circumstances.”
No, they couldn't buy it. But, they could take it. Her virginity. She could not fight them if they tried. Anger heated her face and a red haze filled her vision. She struggled harder. “Damn you! You'll pay for this!”
He laughed. “I suppose so. But, what else can you do? There is an alternative now, a position with dames de nuit…”
She clenched her fist. Now she was likened to a prostitute? No, it would not be done. She tried to play at her innocence. “Please…this can't be happening.”
“Oh, but it is, my lovely lady. It won't be so bad--”
“No!” She slammed the heel of her foot in her captor's shin and spun away.
“Bernard!” called one of the men.
She heard footsteps behind her and she turned, lashing out with her fingernails. She gasped as she saw him howl in pain, lowering his head to reveal red claw marks over the bridge of his nose. Then the man she'd first wounded came at her, tackling her.
The impact jarred her and she went down. “No!” Her escape was not to be.
She rolled to the ground in a maze of skirts and a heavy thigh was thrown across her knees, leaving her immobile. She squeezed her eyes tight. His touch on her face and breasts was repulsive. Tears threatened to overcome her and they ran like tracks into her hair. “Please,” she whispered.
“Ah, gentlemen, what have we here?” An unfamiliar voice sounded and Fara lifted her head weakly to see a new face, a different man. She wondered if he was an ordinary spectator. He didn't look ordinary. He was big, intimidating but not frighteningly so. There was something about him she wanted to trust. She thought it might be his eyes, thought she detected a hint of concern as he glanced at her briefly. But, of course, she might be wrong. She had been before.
The man who pinned her disengaged himself and got to his feet. He looked down at her uneasily. “To your feet, chère,” he ordered.
She dizzily stood in response and he clutched her to his side as if to claim her as his possession.
The stranger frowned. “She's quite a catch, gentlemen. Are you sure she's not off limits?”
The man at her side stiffened. “What do you mean?”
“She appears to be a lady.”
Hope sprang from inside her. The man was no innocent bystander. He was a man with a purpose, but deep down she knew he could not be with these rogues.
“And if she is, Monsieur?”
“Then I would be curious as to why a lady is here with the two of you.”
The one called Bernard replied derisively, “Perhaps we are just too irresistible.”
The man laughed. “Hardly.” He sighed as her captor chose to resume his place behind her and blocked all attempts of escape with an arm across her chest. “Release her, gentlemen. Let's settle this in a civilized manner, shall we?”
The man who held her grunted. “Why don't you go about your business, Monsieur? A simple matter like this shouldn't interest you.”
“A woman's reputation may be at stake. Of course I'm interested.”
“We could share her, Monsieur.”
His gaze swept over her body and she shivered. Why, surely he would not take them seriously...he couldn't take the offer. For God's sake, he was her only hope. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she cursed herself for her maiden's sensibilities. Where had her strength gone?
“You think I would participate in something so lewd? You mistake my character, gentlemen.” He pulled a rapier from its sheath. “The question is, what risks will you take? Let me see...two men against one. Of course, if you still want to keep the lady, it will take one of you to hold her. She looks fairly strong despite her size...why look at that mark on your face. She has fought you. She could be deadly, if given the chance. That makes one against one. Do you intend to fight me for her obvious favors?”
“Take out the girl, Bernard.”
The command came too quickly and before she could struggle away, a fist slammed against her jaw and she fell into blackness.
She lifted her head sometime later, unsure of how long she'd been unconscious. Her vision gradually returned, and the damp of the ground seeped through her dress. She shuddered with the chill of air upon her body. She heard the scrape of a footstep and a grunting sound above her. Still disoriented, Fara raised her head to see the man who had come to her rescue fighting off the two rogues.
He fought them with expert wrist and arm technique. He seemed to be in top physical shape as compared to Jean Le Croíx, who was soft for his obvious youth. She grimaced. Her wound caused her to be silly. So, he was attractive and strong...strong enough to fight these men off and break her neck all in the same moment.
Then the man thrust his rapier forward swiftly. When the one called Bernard, who had a white scar down the side of his face pulled away, he revealed a small but bloody wound on his arm. With a ragged breath, he looked at her rescuer as if weighing the consequences of his decision. He then turned on his heel and his accomplice soon followed him away from the docks.
Fara watched their retreat with a deep sigh. Her rescuer pivoted on his heel and approached her. He looked much larger than before. Trembling, she levered herself up on one elbow and waited for him to speak.
He kneeled and looked her over. “I guess they gave up the chase...”
Fara nodded, swallowing hard. “Oui, Monsieur.” He touched her cheek and she felt the warmth emanate from his hand. She was afraid, but she did not pull away from his touch. She found it strangely protective, even affectionate. Though she barely knew him, she wanted to believe he cared for her welfare. Her vision clouded with tears as rich longing swept through her. To be cared for completely, to be loved. But, he was a stranger. She could not forget that.
Distantly, she knew that her physical state was far from normal at the moment.
“Are you all right?”
She shook her head, feeling herself grow weaker by the second. Nothing could keep her alert at that moment. “Monsieur...” she murmured, falling into the inviting darkness.