UPON YOUR RETURN Chapter 9 Excerpt on Eat Sleep Write

Upon Your Return - Chapter 9 Excerpt by Marie Lavender

December 1, 2013
posted by Adam Scull

Two weeks had passed since Grant had recovered from his injury. Though he resumed his post as escort, he seemed more distant sometimes as if there was much on his mind. Fara had meant to convey to him that caring for him while he was unconscious had not been an inconvenience, as he'd rushed to charge her with, but the opportunity never presented itself. She would simply have to try harder.
Then the news of the masque came. The governor was visiting town with his family and his daughters had decided to throw a ball so that he could meet the townspeople, well at least those who were prominent members of society. It would be held at the governor's mansion in La Rochelle. His two young daughters, both of marriageable age, 17 and 19, chose to make it a masque to add an air of mystery to the event. Fara was still in mourning. It would be unnatural for a woman in mourning to attend such an event.
With the help of her scheming friend Helene, however, she planned to go. Helene aided her in procuring a costume for the ball so she would not arouse suspicion. Fara assumed that Grant would attend as well. She was reluctant to tell him that she was going for two reasons. He would probably remind her of her duties while in mourning, and she also wanted to surprise him if he was there. Despite the fact that the guests were disguised, she hoped she'd still be able to spot him.
The evening of the ball she stood in front of the mirror as she prepared to leave. She wore an emerald gown with a matching glittery, feathered mask, which covered part of her eyes and nose. Her flame-colored locks were piled atop her head in a coronet with the other half falling like a cascade down her back. She wore emerald slippers and toted a like colored bag. Donning a black shawl against the cool of night, she went to join Rosalie and Helene downstairs.
Rosalie would be acting as their chaperone tonight. She was dressed more conservatively than the girls, wearing a simple gown of blue. Helene had chosen a pink gown and matching mask for a striking contrast against her incredibly dark hair. Fara and Helene giggled with excitement as they left the house and ascended into the carriage directed by Pierre. She and her friend chatted in near whispers on the way to the ball like cohorts plotting a crime.
When they arrived at the mansion, they went inside and were welcomed by the Barrets, the governor and his wife. An aide announced her name to them. Fara smiled as the governor kissed both of her cheeks. “It is a pleasure to meet you too, Gouverneur Barret.”
“The pleasure is mine, Mademoiselle.” He then turned to greet Helene.
Once the formalities were over, the ladies descended down a wide staircase into the ballroom where couples were dancing. Around the edges of the room were chairs, where people could rest. Some ate at small plates from the tidbits of food on trays which were passed on by servants around the room. It really was elaborately planned. Fara did not miss the decorations or the Turkish rugs, the velvet curtains, which covered hidden alcoves where couples could escape from the crowd.
Her stomach tightened in anticipation. She wondered if she would run into Grant and if he would recognize her at the same time she realized it was him. That was the thing about masques. It was so easy to be mysterious, incognito. She shook her preoccupation away and joined her companions to partake in the meal. They made themselves comfortable in a group of chairs placed along the left side of the ballroom.
When they were done with their repast, Fara and Helene gossiped about the identities of the guests. It was an honor to receive an invitation, especially from the governor. But, no one had been left out. Most of the townspeople had been invited including those for whom it would not have been socially required to attend, those who were ill, had other circumstances which made it difficult to attend, or those in mourning like Fara. She did not feel she should have been left out of the festivities. There were not many such occasions in La Rochelle besides.
The ladies spent the first two hours chatting casually and finally two men approached them. Both were of medium stature and dressed in some kind of uniform. Their masks concealed their identities so well it was hard for Fara to tell if she'd seen them before.
Bonjour, Mesdemoiselles,” one man greeted, bowing slightly. “It would be my pleasure to escort you. Would you perhaps join me in a waltz?” His gaze flickered between the girls. His companion remained silent as if he would let the man choose for him.
When the man who spoke turned to Fara and held out his hand, her breath caught for a moment as she wavered in decision. Well, it was not as if she owed anyone anything. She was still unattached. Her betrothal to Monsieur Bordeaux would soon be dissolved and she still had not seen Grant appear. It would not matter if she enjoyed a dance with a stranger this once. That was the point of a masked ball. “Thank you,” she replied, and took the arm he offered. Looking back, she saw that Helene had taken the other man's offer to dance. She was on her own now.
The man carted her to the floor, led her through the waltz, following each step, and did not bother to converse with her at all. Just as he was about to lead her through a turn, he guided her off of the floor, up a short climb of stairs, and into one of the alcoves. He swept the curtain closed behind them and ushered her to a balcony.
Monsieur!” she gasped for breath, winded not only from dancing but from his abrupt manner. Her heart began to beat in a sick thud. What did he intend? “Monsieur,” she began again, “what is the meaning of this?”
“I thought we could enjoy a moment alone, away from the crowd.” Through his mask, she could see a lascivious glint in his eyes as he looked her over. “Surely you cannot deny a man what he wants?” He reached to drag her forward with a grip on her arm.
She gasped, in indignation this time. “I certainly can! I will deny you! How dare you treat me like some trollop--”
“Quit your whining,” he grated out before trying to crush his mouth against hers.
She fought him with all she had, teeth, fingernails and as much strength as she could muster. He reared back, swearing. His lip was cut where she'd bitten him and there was an ugly red scratch on his neck where her nails had sunk in. “Leave me alone!” She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth to rid herself of his taste.
“Bitch,” he muttered. “You'll pay for that.”
“I would listen to the lady if I were you.”
They both swung to see another man dressed in a dinner coat and trousers with a phantom mask over part of his face.
“What business is it of yours?” the man who'd accosted her asked.
“That doesn't matter. I demand that you now treat her like the lady she is. Apologize.”
A thrill tingled down Fara's spine. She knew that voice. It was Grant. But if he wanted to remain anonymous, she would play along.
The man beside her shifted uneasily where he stood. “Or?”
“Or you may not make it to the brothel I assume you attend regularly. Suffice it to say you'll regret it, Monsieur. I may not even go to the trouble of challenging you in a duel.”
He must have seen the sincere threat in Grant's eyes as well as his rapier, which he always carried at his side. The man turned to Fara. “I am sorry, Mademoiselle. It will not happen again.” He did not wait for a response; he swept past both her and Grant and was out of the alcove before they could stop him.
“Obviously propriety is lost on him.”
She smiled. It was so like him to make light of a bad situation. She remembered she still hadn't acknowledged that he knew her. Perhaps he did not recognize her? “I would like to thank you, Monsieur, for your intervention.”
“There is no need. I did what any man would have done.”
“Not every man would aid just any woman. I should not have accepted his offer to dance. Before I had a chance to stop him, he dragged me in here. I should not have trusted him.”
“Don't punish yourself over it. But, it's true that some strangers can have ulterior motives.”
“But, not all?”
“No, I suppose occasionally someone means well.”
“Would you fit into that category? One that has no ulterior motives?”
“Perhaps when I first came into the alcove…”
His eyes beneath his mask seemed to bore into her very soul. In a way, she knew she was toying with Grant, that he probably thought she didn't know it was him, and was appalled that she would flirt with simply any man. What was he feeling? Her heart raced in a strange, exhilarating way, and her breaths were more shallow. If he did know it was her, did he care?
“But, not now?” she teased.
“Now I just might have ulterior motives…”
The alcove curtain was closed so there was no reason to fear being seen. A part of her didn't care if they were caught without her having a chaperone. The fact that she wasn't supposed to be here because of her mourning period added to the risk. It was enticing. She closed the distance between them by approaching him, placing her hands on his chest. “I want to thank you.”
“I told you it wasn't necessary.” His voice sounded suddenly husky.
“I think it is.” Their lips were inches apart and they stood that way for what seemed an eternity. When Fara thought she would go mad with the waiting, he lowered his lips to hers, softly questing. Their mouths lingered, lost in sensation and the essence of one another until finally he pulled away. Through their masks and the silence of the alcove, there was an element Fara couldn't quite pinpoint. Temptation perhaps? She wanted to give in to the unspoken need, but it would be idiocy to act on it.
Grant whispered, “Mademoiselle Bellamont, you are a tease.”
He had accused her of it before, but now she could only sigh. “You would know if I was teasing, Capitaine.” At his frown, she shook her head. Reality returned just as it always did. There were obligations. Grant then escorted her back to Helene and Rosalie and they left the governor's mansion. Part of her could only muse what it might have been like if they'd had nothing to worry about. Could she have a chance with Grant? Her heart needed to believe in the possibility.
* * * *
A few days later, Fara rose as she did on most days, attentively checking on the servants in the rooms and keeping order to the household. But, underneath those duties, she planned to spend a day away from the house. She needed the fresh air and warm sun to lift her drowning spirits. She was endlessly tired of staying inside, overseeing tasks and organizing meals. She felt if she stayed in today, she might scream or do something drastic. The events of the past week had left her restless and distracted. After a morning respite, she left the house, purposefully withholding the information of her plans from any of the servants. Normally, she would have asked Pierre to drive her into town, but she needed to walk. And she wanted to be alone.
With a small change purse tied to her wrist, she headed in the direction of the markets. She would not buy food today; the cook was not yet complaining. Fara planned to visit a milliner's shop nearby. She would treat herself to a nice bonnet or something. She wanted to fill the void that caused her restlessness. She felt as if something was missing and somehow she would have to replace it.
A half hour later, after making a preliminary order to Madame Privet for a simple, yet sophisticated mauve muslin gown, she paid the woman for her trouble and a delivery date was promised. Fara expressed her gratitude for the woman's assistance and left the shop. As she headed into the street, a man cleared his throat behind her.
“Didn't your mother advise you never to leave the house without an escort?”
She turned to stare into a pair of gray eyes. Who else but Capitaine Hill might follow her? “Of course, but it has been so long, tis' difficult to remember.”
“Or, perhaps you enjoy bending the rules at times?”
She frowned. “Whose rules, Capitaine? Yours or mine? Or perhaps it is society we should blame.”
They had not spoken of what had occurred at the ball since he'd escorted her back to Helene and Rosalie that night. She wondered if he was simply disappointed that she had stepped out of the role she was meant to play for an evening. What if he thought her promiscuous, eager to take any man's offer and act on his whim? That wouldn't be good at all. Part of her couldn't see why she should care at all what he thought. The other part, however, felt entirely different. She was attached to him in a way she couldn't explain. He either drove her mad with how he hounded her one moment and the next; she couldn't help but feel more for him, something like admiration and well, attraction.
He smiled slightly. “You've made your point, but you cannot deny the danger of such negligence. Your antics may encourage me to become your shadow from now on.”
She turned away, aware of a rising and sinking sensation in her stomach. “A disturbing thought, Monsieur.”
“Isn't it? Perhaps were you another lady, you might ask that I occupy such a position, but it is your choice now. Enough time has passed, and I can assume from your behavior that Monsieur Spencer was lax in his duties.”
“I do not require that service. But…” she glanced at him curiously as he had decided to walk at her side. “If I did request it, what reward might you seek?”
He grinned. “I could pretend you think I am incapable of ulterior motives, Mademoiselle. But, of course, the only reward I seek is the pleasure of your company.”
“So smoothly spoken, Monsieur, and somehow familiar. Were you not trained to do so?”
“Trained to be charming? No, it is a trait a man acquires on his own.”
“That is not what I meant. In your line of work, you must be considerably adept at…negotiation.” As she observed him, he seemed to become less relaxed. A scowl settled on his face and his fists clenched. She had touched on a sensitive issue, so it seemed. “Grant, I--”
“Of course, one must always be willing to use every means available to gain an acceptable result.”
As quickly as anger and unease had taken him, once more he seemed relaxed. But, she felt he knew his boundaries. She had said the wrong thing, and he had only allowed himself to react for a mere second. Now, his manner was formal and amiable, yet guarded. The man was difficult to decipher like a long forgotten language in some old text. She did not know why he had become sensitive when she spoke of negotiation, and she felt that asking him would gain her nothing. He eyed her now as if even her silence was suspicious. “Capitaine,” she said gently, taking his arm, “since I have forgotten the rules, would you mind escorting me back home?”
He nodded easily enough, but he looked neither glad nor dissatisfied. “Of course, Mademoiselle.”
As he led her away, she wondered at his resigned response. Perhaps he felt just as utterly obligated as she in most things. Even if she wanted to do something wholeheartedly, she could not do it for long. And she could not truly enjoy it. It wasn't right. And if her presence was requested, she could not always refuse. Only when she had a choice could she refuse something. And she was not given the power of personal decision very often at all. At the same time, Grant seemed to be the only person who understood her need to make those decisions about her life.