Authors: Delilah Marvelle
Tags: #Romance, #History, #Erotica, #French Revolution, #Historical Romance
She continued to smooth her braid against her shoulder. “Are you suggesting you are capable of offering more than sex to a woman?”
“Of course I am.” He tapped her thigh. “I am not like other men, Thérèse. I never play games. What you see is exactly what you get. While the sex was incredible, there is more to me than that and I wish to assure you, I will be devoted to you for however long we can make this last.”
She squinted. “Does this mean I now own your soul?”
“Prove yourself, and I will ensure you get it right along with anything else you want.”
She sat up. “I was teasing.”
“I was not.”
She was quiet for a moment. “So what happens next?”
Gérard spaced his words out so she damn well understood what needed to happen. “The moment we get to Paris, what we share here in the forest ends. Private meetings will be rare. There are far too many eyes watching. Which means, whenever we are in public, I become nothing more than a besotted admirer you will have no choice but to scorn. And I am quite serious about that.”
He stared her down. “If you hint, even for a breath, to anyone that we mean anything to each other, not only will no one trust you, but it will be used against you
me. Try to remember your task throughout all of this is only to prod for political gossip. Which actresses are well-known for doing anyway, so it will hardly raise any brows. Anything you think might be of worth to me, you will pass along using hair ribbons as a method of communication. My mother, who was heavily involved in assisting others, used the same method to keep battered women away from their husbands.”
She sat up, her brows going up. “Hair ribbons?”
“Yes. You will purchase and only ever wear three colors in your hair: blue, white and red. Like the cockade. It will make you incredibly popular. Little will anyone know that those same ribbons are going to be used to communicate with me. Every Friday at noon, you will step outside the theatre for three minutes, wearing whatever ribbon is required to pass on information. A red ribbon will indicate you have a lead. I will send a man I trust so you and he can go over all the details. A white ribbon will indicate you merely wish to see me.” He lifted a brow. “It could be for sex or anything else you may need. I expect to see a lot of those in your hair.”
“And then there is the blue ribbon.” He grew serious again. “Never use it unless your life depends on it.”
She lowered her chin. “This sounds ominous.”
“It is. You will only ever use it in response to any danger you may be in. It is the only ribbon you will actually send, not wear. The moment I receive that blue ribbon, no matter the hour, I will be at your door looking to slit throats. So do not
send me a blue ribbon. For it will only expose our association.”
Observing him for a long moment, she asked softly, “Where would I send it?”
“Five Luxembourg. It will go directly to a very close friend of mine. That way, there will be no visible connections between you and me.”
She glanced upward toward the overhang of the dark forest barely outlined and illuminated by the fire. “Red for leads, white for everything else, and blue only if I need a few throats slit in my honor. Number five at Luxembourg.” She tapped her temple. “This is my ink and parchment.” She leveled her eyes back to him and hesitated.
He lifted a brow. “What is it? I can see you thinking.”
“What is your association with
? You mentioned he was like a father to you.”
This was where the creek that separated them became the size of a cavern.
It was inevitable. She was going to find out the moment they got into Paris anyway.
Rolling his tongue on the inside of his mouth, he eventually offered, “
is my godfather. If he were to die without heirs, and the
were to die, as well, my father would be the next in line as king. And I, by right, directly after him.”
Her eyes widened. She searched his face, her pale face flushing to bright red. “You are
closely related to the king?” she echoed.
And there it was. She was no longer impressed by him or his looks but the title. Much like women had always been, even when his brothers had been alive and he was a damn spare. He
sharing who he was. He
tainting people’s perception of him.
After all, he was no God. Nor had he ever tried to be, much to his father’s dismay. He rather liked being human. It allowed him to be what he was: anything but perfect. His love for sex and brandy was too great to pretend otherwise.
He gallantly inclined his head. “The name is Gérard Antoine Tolbert, and I am the last remaining heir to the great
of Andelot.” Knowing she deserved the honor, he gestured toward her resting hand. “Might I have the pleasure of a full introduction,
? You only ever gave me your first name.”
She hesitated and slowly held out her hand, her slim wrist almost floppy. “I am…” She gaped. “I am Thérèse Angelique Clavette.”
At least she was capable of saying her name.
Taking her hand, which seemed so charmingly small against his own, he leaned over it and kissed it. He lingered, brushing his lips against her soft skin and held her gaze. “Despite who I am, from this moment on, you and I are equals. I am not above you, and you are not above me. I am devoted to you and you are devoted to me.”
She dragged back her hand and smoothed her skirts, eyeing him. “I take it you are incredibly wealthy? Yes?”
He shifted his jaw, trying not to get annoyed knowing he had offered her equality and devotion and the first thing out of her mouth was money. This is
why he kept himself from ever loving any of these women, especially after Madame Poulin. Because it kept his standards low enough for him to walk right over them when he was done. “Oh, yes. Incredibly. My father is worth ten million
, and we own fourteen estates across France.”
She choked. “Fourteen estates? And you
have ten million
left over? That should be illegal.”
Women. “Each estate produces almost half a million a year. It is pure mathematics. No laws broken, and we pay our tenants eight times more than most. Our generosity to our tenants has proven effective as they work twice as hard and have remained devoted to us and our name even during the turmoil that has overtaken France.”
Her eyes skimmed him. Twice. “Forgive me, but I find it very difficult to believe you are worth ten million. Your appearance is— I do not mean to insult you, Gérard dear, for you are beyond gorgeous, but…why under heaven’s name are you wearing such horrid, outdated clothing? Is this because you are incognito? Or is this what you usually wear?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it does. You are the son of a
.” She tugged at the sleeve of her frayed blue gown. “Do you think I want to wear this? I have better fashion sense than this. The trouble is my taste is beyond what I can afford. You should be so lucky.”
Who knew taking one bite from this siren’s apple would make him regret every minute of it?
“When we get to Paris,” she added, “might I go shopping for clothes? You know…the expensive sort?”
Of course she would ask for clothes. Women always asked for clothes. “I will ensure whatever you want, you get.”
Her heavy-lidded azure eyes brightened as her stunning and overly perfect pale features softened. “I like you. I like you well beyond what I should.”
“I am glad to hear it.” He lowered his gaze to that exposed, pale throat and imagined her softness all over him again. “Would you like diamonds for that throat?” He might as well show off. “I can arrange for that, too.”
Her mouth opened. “A diamond necklace? As in a
one? Made out of diamonds?”
He smirked. “Yes. Last I knew diamond necklaces were made out diamonds.”
Pertly scooting closer, she tapped his knee. “Can I have pearls, too? A long set that will drape itself to my waist? I rather like the idea of having over a thousand pearls on one string.”
If he wasn’t careful, she was going to run off with his father’s ten million.
Taking another long swig from his flask, Gérard swallowed hard and tried not to look at those sizable breasts he had thoroughly enjoyed masturbating into earlier. “Why settle for one that falls to the waist? We can have your pearls trail the floor.”
An excited giggle escaped her in between claps. “Who knew giving up my virginity would turn into
Unbelievable. She was like a fairy-demon.
It was actually nice having a lover again.
Though it never did last.
They always disappointed him.
Eyeing Thérèse, he took another long swig, letting it sit in his mouth long enough for his tongue to bathe in it before swallowing. He could feel the haze of the brandy already overtaking him like an old friend. The one friend he knew would always be there.
He drank more. And more.
She lowered her chin. “You certainly are enjoying that flask.”
It was one of the few things he could enjoy given everything he had been through. He tilted the drink toward her. “Do you want some?”
She leaned forward, primly taking the flask. “
.” She peered into it and sniffed its rim. “What is it?”
“Brandy. ’Tis fermented fruit mashed into liquid perfection I cannot do without. Of all the spirits in the cupboard of cupboards, that
is my definition of true refinement. It hits me faster and harder than the wine, rum, whiskey, gin or anything else. Those do nothing for me. A complete waste of time.”
Both of her brows went up. “So are you a connoisseur or a drunk?”
How utterly charming. This one thought she was now his wife. “I am a drunk first and a connoisseur last. I drink about a decanter every night. Get used to it.”
She sat up. “Are you being serious?”
“Yes. I started drinking shortly after my mother died. Even prior to her death, I was always partial to the taste of brandy. The sting wakes your soul.”
She hesitated. “I am ever so sorry to hear about your mother.”
His throat tightened. He shrugged, trying to pretend it didn’t matter. “Her carriage was robbed. The driver was ignorant enough to try to fight the men, instead of letting them take the goddamn money. One of the men fired a pistol, and she got hit. The three men were hanged, but my father ended up beating that driver to near death for instigating the violence.”
Gérard swallowed, refusing to linger on how his mother’s limp, bleeding body had been carried into the house by his wailing father. “’Tis painfully wrong and morbid to see this world full of so many vile people living and breathing, doing nothing but wrong, whilst someone so good, who had done so much for the world, is no longer part of it.” He swiped the flask from her hand and indulged in several swallows of liquor.
A small hand touched his and slipped between his fingers.
The unexpected affection made him swallow. He dug his fingers into that hand, wanting to believe her concern was genuine and not paid for.
He swallowed a mouthful of brandy, hissing out against the sting from swallowing too much. “By the age of fourteen, I was passing out in my room every night. It was not until the butler informed my father why all of the brandy kept going missing that he figured it out. He had it removed from the house, but I still find a way to get it.”
She scooted closer, tightening her hold on his hand. “I doubt your mother would have approved of you hurting yourself like this.”
Her overly honest observation pinched. “I know.”
He wondered if her concern had been paid for by the lifestyle he was now offering her. He couldn’t tell. “I am addressing it.” He took another swig.
Releasing his hand, she grabbed hold of the flask. “Addressing it means not drinking it.” She pointed at him. “In my opinion, you ought to refrain from even carrying it if it holds this much power over you. What are you doing? You are more than this.”
Was he? How did she know?
The haze was already crawling into his head and into his mind. It was nice not to think about anything anymore and to know he had finally found a way to choke out secrets from the Republic. He was exhausted. He was done feeling like every day was his last day and was tired of caring too much for a world that didn’t give a damn at all. “I like getting drunk before I retire. It allows me to stop thinking about my life.”
She drew the rim of the flask closer to her mouth, brows coming together, and dabbed her tongue against the rim several times. “’Tis overly strong. How can you even drink this on a regular basis?” She paused and dabbed her wet pink tongue on it again.
He stared at her, his body and mouth tingling. Why was his damn flask getting more tongue than he was? He felt bloody underappreciated.
He leaned in, swaying, and tried to kiss her.
A hand popped up between him and his tongue. “You,
are soused. You may kiss me in the morning when you return to reality.”
“But I want to kiss you now,” he slurred. “I paid for it.”
She gave him a withering look. “How about I give you a slap in the face for free? Now leave off and lie down. You are no longer yourself.”
Women were so damn predictable. They used every excuse not to have sex. He pushed at her hand and leaned back in exasperation. Diamonds and pearls sure as hell didn’t seem to get a man far these days. “How about I get you that zebra then? So I can kiss you?’
She tsked. “If I accept a zebra from you, it means we are heavily involved.” She held up the flask in a mock salute. “You may not remember this in the morning, aristo dear, but this is me agreeing to our alliance for however long you need me. May France arise to the level it genuinely deserves: money for everyone.”
He blinked against the haze. “Money is for the devil. It makes you think you have everything when in fact you have nothing.”