Authors: Delilah Marvelle
Tags: #Romance, #History, #Erotica, #French Revolution, #Historical Romance
Struggling to remain calm, Gérard took another swig of brandy. He was done being a good son to a father who only ever thought the worst of him. He was also done mourning for his brothers. It wasn’t as if they had ever been close anyway. Those two roosters had only ever reveled in having too much fun at his expense. Growing up, they regularly tied him to a tree on the farthest corner of their thousand acre estate and would leave him there for days, while feigning ignorance to everyone as to his whereabouts, even in a thunderstorm.
His brothers and his father had prepared him for what life was really like: disappointing.
Corking his flask, Gérard tucked it away into his coat. “I have to go. Unlike you, I cannot pretend the world is not burning.”
There was a thud against the door, as if the duc was using his own head to try to understand him. “Cease pretending we have any control over what is happening anymore. They have sealed all borders and are confiscating anything I try to send to your mother’s family in England.”
“I am well aware of that.” Scanning the shadows beyond his open window, Gérard shifted his jaw. “Our situation is dire,
Fortunately, the power of our money still commands whatever we want. Though who knows for how much longer. I suggest you start burying whatever gold you can.”
His father’s gruff voice cracked. “I have faith Austria will take back the country given their daughter is being held hostage along with
. This revolt has no teeth. None. It is all but pitchforks and hay.”
Pitchforks and hay did not kill his brothers. These radicals in power were serious. The height of that seriousness further peaked barely a few weeks earlier, when he received a scrawled cryptic message, bearing the words, ‘
Remember the tears you once spilled on my desk? Gather everything from it and part with it not. If I succeed, I will attempt to send further word
idea what the letter was referring to or who it was from. So he burned it in case someone was trying to get him or his father into trouble.
It wasn’t until the recent capture and arrest of his godfather, Sa Majesté, who had tried to escape the country with the queen and their two children, that Gérard realized who had written it.
The King of France himself.
Though it was a memory long forgotten, Gérard had, indeed, spilled tears on a desk. Long ago, whilst visiting Versailles with his father, he had been inconsolable over the death of his dog, Alfonse. So he laid on the floor with his tear-streaked cheek mashed against the marble of the corridor, openly sobbing. His father only roared at him without pity for laying on the palace floor like a peasant.
His godfather proved more compassionate. The king ushered everyone away and knelt beside Gérard, promising a special day if he could set aside his tears. Sa Majesté then tapped his lips, led him down a maze of countless corridors to a hidden narrow set of stairs and into what looked like an ordinary sitting room.
After draping shut windows and turning the key in the door, his godfather winked and revealed a secret only bestowed from a dying king to his own son since sixteen hundred and eighty-two. Reaching beneath the hearth of the fireplace, he removed a narrow panel with a quick tug and turned a series of knobs that sounded like bolts being unlocked. His godfather then removed another panel beside the hearth revealed a hidden half-door cleverly between simple molding. Pushing it open, they entered a quiet, windowless room where they spent half the day writing poetry on a desk and talking about how special dogs really were.
Not even his father had taken the time to dry his tears like that.
And now, Gérard was being asked to dry the tears of his king.
Which he damn well would.
Dropping his booted foot from the ledge to the floor with a thud, Gérard pushed himself away from the open window. “Was there any word about the burial arrangements for Marceau and Julien? We should have heard something by now.”
The duc was quiet for a moment. “Yes. I received a letter about it less than an hour ago. I would have knocked on your door sooner but I thought you were sleeping. The
rejected our plea to bury them. Their remains will be held indefinitely as evidence.”
Tears burned Gérard’s eyes. Christ. This revolution was a genocide. A genocide that was not giving the living a chance to pray or the dead their right to be buried.
But he’d be damned if Sa Majesté was next. Damned!
Gérard sniffed hard.
Stripping off his coat, he whipped it onto the four poster bed and trudged over to the paneled door. Turning the key, he unlatched the bolt and yanked open the door. He stepped out into the candlelit corridor toward his father. “If I do not return in fourteen days, it means I am dead.”
The old duc ceased pacing and swung toward him, curling grey hair falling into blue eyes. Lines etched into that aged, regal face, deepened. “What do you mean? Where are you going?”
“I was asked to do something for
, whom as you well know, was taken into custody for fleeing. I genuinely fear what will be done to him. If members of the Assembly had no reservations about executing my brothers on the side of a road, I can only imagine what awaits our king. It is my hope what he is asking me to do will help him.”
The duc swung away and set trembling hands onto his head. “
Merde a la puissance treize
.” His father swung back to him. Those fierce blue eyes hardened to lethal, revealing the unbridled man Gérard knew all too well. “You have lost your mind thinking you can take on an army of men.”
“I am not taking them on alone. I started working with several other aristocrats to try to get people out of this country. It will take time, but I have faith with all our resources, we can help each other.”
His father choked. “Are you— What they did to your brothers is nothing compared to what they will do to you! You cannot—”
“I am trying to do something outside of smashing furniture against walls like you do on the hour.”
The duc gritted his teeth and backhanded Gérard’s head. “Enough of that tongue! Not even your brothers would have dared use words against me.”
Gérard adjusted the ribbon in his tied dark hair which had loosened from the stinging blow. As many as a few months ago, he would have permitted it. But now? He was done playing by everyone else’s rules. He was only playing by his own.
He shoved his father’s away, making the man stumble. “There. I am no longer the perfect son. Now what?”
Those eyes widened. “How dare you—”
“No.” Gérard leveled the man with a hard stare, angling in close. “You, along with the rest of this godforsaken world, seem to think because I used to frequent almshouses every Friday that I am some sort of sop. I am no longer the spare you can slap around. I am now heir. Remember that. Touch me again and I will show you what this charitable son of yours can do.”
The duc paused. “I smell brandy. Are you drunk?”
Gérard puffed out an exasperated breath. “No. I reserve all drunkenness when I am about to retire for the night. And as you can see, I am not retiring. I have a three hour ride ahead of me.”
Those features stilled. “You told me you were done drinking.”
“In the face of what is happening to the world, brandy is hardly a problem.”
The duc pointed. “You are still waist-high with these people. Waist high! These
simpletons you have been carousing with since youth have taught you to not only drink but defy your own father!”
“You know nothing about my life or why I do anything.” Gérard held out a gloved hand, trying to be civil. “Give me your blessing should I not return.”
The old man glared. “No. You are all that remains of this name and I will be damned if I let you walk out that door.” The duc stripped off his coat and tossed it. He wagged both hands, sending the lace cuffs on his sleeves swaying. “’Tis obvious you need me to knock that head back into place. Come at me. We will settle this the way your friends on the streets do.”
Hell. When old marble fell, it shattered into a million pieces. While shouts had always defined their relationship since his mother’s death, Gérard knew if he ever tried to swing at the man, he would do more than hurt the son of a bitch. He would kill him.
“Cease being ridiculous. Given your age, I would only hurt you.” Gérard rolled his eyes. “How you ever won my mother’s hand and heart whilst she lived is beyond my comprehension.”
The duc’s hardened features wavered.
The memory of his mother was the only softness his father clung to. And sadly, even that was fading. It was all fading. “Little remains of our family,
. My godfather needs me and if I have to put up fists to leave this house, I will. Because if I cannot be a hero to the one man who inspired me to be more, what good am I? What purpose have I? I would become like you. Bloody useless.”
There was a moment of silence.
Gérard swallowed, sensing he had stabbed the man a bit too deep. “Forgive me.”
Averting his gaze, the duc shrugged. “No. You are quite right. I am useless. I cannot even protect my one remaining son from himself. I gave you all too much freedom.” Grabbing up his evening coat, he tugged it on. “Go serve our king. If you are not back in fourteen days, I will assume you are dead. And although we never get along, I wish to assure you, I will still mourn for you.” Stalking down the corridor, the duc disappeared into his room and slammed the door.
Gérard sagged against the nearest wall.
Him die? Nay. Unlike his brothers, he always planned everything right down to the splinter and never went into anything blind. Or drunk. Yanking out the flask from his pocket, he uncorked it and numbly took one last swallow of brandy to keep his hands from shaking. No more brandy until he was at Château de Versailles.
For he and the Republic were at war.
NINE DAYS LATER – LATE MORNING
ON THE FARTHEST OUTSKIRTS OF PARIS, FRANCE
Chirping birds scattered into the nearby forest, breaking the silence as several large crows scavenged the dew softened fields.
It was eerily quiet. A bit
quiet. Even for the countryside.
Thérèse Angelique Clavette peered through the low hanging branches of the orchard she had taken refuge in the night before and strained to listen for anyone coming down the dirt path.
The pulsing silence was interrupted only on occasion by gathering crows and the buzzing of flies and bees. Strangely, no one had been on the road or in the fields since her journey commenced days earlier.
The revolution had certainly changed the world.
With so much equality being heralded across the land, no one wanted to work anymore.
The vast orchard surrounding her hinted that farmers had decided to move on to other things. Rusting scythes lay abandoned amongst piles of gathered hay and poorly nailed ladders had been left propped against various apple trees next to wooden buckets gathering debris and insects.
She hoped to have been in Paris by now, but without a single cart on the road to get her there, she had been forced to walk the entire way.
she should have bought those ugly leather ankle boots, but had naïvely wanted to go to Paris in style. She had therefore opted to trade her best bonnet for a pair of satin slippers from the only fashionable woman in her village: the inn-keeper’s wife.
The pretty, indigo slippers had been difficult to resist. They were stitched with beautiful, delicate patterns of yellow flowers and had wooden heels that were absolutely fabulous. Only…they were too tight given they were meant to be worn with silk stockings, not thick, knitted ones. As such, Thérèse had been forced to walk without said slippers for almost two days, proving to her that being vain was no different than being stupid.
Grudgingly folding the blanket she had slept on, Thérèse set it into her travelling basket and leaned over the grass to spit out remnants of the chalk she had used to brush her teeth. She held up a small cracked mirror and used the wool sleeve of her gown to rub away the gritty residue. Each white tooth squeaked in glorious cleanliness.
She tucked away the mirror, convinced her teeth alone were going to make her famous.
Ready for the long day ahead, Thérèse adjusted her straw bonnet back into place and dragged in a regal breath, hefting up the wicker basket full of neatly folded clothing and apples she had picked from the abandoned orchard. Pushing her blonde braid over her slim shoulder, she trudged through the high grass in thick wool stockings. Her patched skirts and faded blue petticoats dragged behind her as her shoeless feet crunched their way out onto the dirt path of the small forest.
She hoped she was going the right way. She honestly didn’t know anymore.
Shaking out her skirts to rid the fabric of any hay, she marched onward, thankful the ground wasn’t muddy and that the sky still held onto sunshine. Despite being lost, she was rather proud of herself. She was about to become something no woman in her village had ever dared to be: independent.