Authors: Delilah Marvelle
Tags: #Romance, #History, #Erotica, #French Revolution, #Historical Romance
Hooking his thumbs against the pockets of his trousers, he bit out, “I can see that. Unfortunately, you are part of the growing problem in this country. All tongue but no mind.”
“I beg your pardon?”
He narrowed his gaze. “You swallow propaganda merely because you hear it or because it was written. Be it about a zebra or anything else, those gazettes and pamphlets are paid for and printed by people with a specific agenda. Remember that.” His tone hardened. “And while you insult my way of life by calling me a bastard, your gazettes and pamphlets are pushing the masses to violence in the name of overtaking what little remains of this country. Aristocrats are not the problem anymore. You people are.”
No wonder the country was going to hell. If a man of privilege refused to acknowledge the struggles happening outside his golden gates, it would seem this revolution was just getting started.
In truth, she wasn’t a
believer in the revolution. The idea of eliminating Sa Majesté was pointless. What would it change? Nothing. Because men in power equated to men in power. And said power would simply go on to yet another self-righteous prick who would only use the government like the devil paging through the bible looking for new words to tear out.
But she understood why people were demanding change.
They were out of hope. Much like she was.
Knowing it was best to leave, for she was getting a bit
riled about their conversation, she edged back. “I suggest you aristos stop blaming the pamphlets and do something about the taxes and the food prices. Maybe
, your kind would be more respected. For without the respect of the people, what keeps us in place? Nothing. Propaganda is only ever allowed to fester when there is nothing left for the people to believe in.
may be why I am prancing off to Paris to be an actress. Because I have
left to believe in.”
He said nothing.
Thérèse offered him a theatrical bow. “Thank you for wasting my time. I bid you a very good day and ask that you stop following me.” She swung away and started walking again. Only faster.
She almost hit her head against her own basket, unable to believe she had just delivered a political lashing to an aristocratic man who had five rosewood pistols, a dagger and a sword.
Not only did the blighter not pay her the money he promised, he continued to follow her.
As if it were his right!
“Maybe I ought to take you back to Giverny and marry you off,” he called. “That would certainly keep you out of trouble.”
Her heart skidded. Oh, God. She had told him where she was from. Which meant—
Thérèse broke out into a run, cradling her wicker basket against herself to keep everything within it from bouncing out.
Determined booted feet thudded after her. “Why the hell are you running?!” he yelled.
Because I am not going back to Giverny! So you might as well start shooting with every pistol you have
!” Her parents, who were as stubborn as she, would lock her in a room until she married Didier. And then she would find herself covered in his facial powder every single night for life. For life!
Her heart pounded as she ran even faster. An apple bounced out. She frantically tried to catch it, but it rolled off to the side.
, cease—” Rounding her with astounding speed, he blocked her path with his broad frame by skidding in before her. He grabbed her closest arm, yanking her to a halt that made them both stumble. “For mercy’s sake,
Thérèse jerked to a halt in exasperation and winced, knowing he wasn’t going to let her pass. She swallowed, her chest still heaving from the sprint she had attempted. She tore herself away from his grasp.
There was only one thing left to do. Take to the stage. Like she always did.
Forcing tears to streak her eyes in a well-practiced attempt to save herself, she choked out, “Please,
I…I beg of you not to insist.” She focused on ensuring her voice quivered just enough to sound real. “I am well aware of your superiority and apologize for my overly passionate words, but I cannot go back to Giverny and marry a man I do not love. It would ruin more than my heart. Is that what you seek to do? To take what remains of my insignificant life and fling me into perpetual misery? Would you be that cruel?” She would have let her lip tremble, but decided it would have been a bit much.
His commanding blue eyes grew all the more amused. As did his husky voice. “You are an incredibly good actress. Do you toy with men like this all the time?”
She cringed. It was the first time she failed to produce the effect she wanted. “No. Not all the time.”
He assessed her, his amusement fading. “Do you really have a cousin in Paris?”
She daintily swiped at what remained of the tears she had theatrically produced. “Yes, of course, I have a cousin. Just because I am an actress does not mean whatever comes out of my mouth is a lie.”
His brows came together. “I am astounded he would let you walk to Paris alone. Women of all classes are being assaulted on the streets given there are no
to oversee the chaos. Some of these revolutionaries are merrily raping women on the street in the name of ‘freedom’. Do you know that?”
She swallowed. No. She didn’t. But she wasn’t surprised. Men were like that. Self-serving.
He searched her face. “Your level of intelligence is astoundingly unusual for the daughter of a mere butcher. I cannot help but be skeptical as to who you really are.”
Thérèse blinked through the last of her fake tears. It was so strange, but this close, those steel blue eyes of his had become more than a color. They were fiercely passionate, soulful and heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Those eyes didn’t seem to trust her anymore than she trusted him.
She heaved out a sigh, ready to call it a truce. “Unusual though it is, I was actually sent to a seminary in Paris for three years. It was paid for by a very generous and wealthy patron my mother used to be a governess to. I thought my parents had lost the last of their
minds trying to overeducate me, only to discover I was an investment. They dragged me back to Giverny and forced me to teach everything I learned at the seminary to every single one of my ten unruly brothers. I taught the same bloody lesson plan for so many years, I am fully convinced I have been to Russia eighteen times.”
Sensing he still wasn’t believing it, she added, “Yes. Russia. ‘Tis an aspiration of mine to visit Saint Petersburg one of these days. They call it the city of giants given how massive the boulevards and buildings are. Apparently, these Russians are so hardened by the snow and life they chew glass for dinner.”
He smirked. “I doubt they chew glass for dinner. But then what do I know? I have never been.” Rubbing a hand against his jaw, he turned and strode back toward the horse. Unsheathing the single dagger attached to the saddle of the horse, he gripped it.
Her heart popped as she scrambled back. “What are you doing?”
He glanced at her. “You are not the only actor in our midst.”
With that, he detached the brass buttons on his coat with the tip of his dagger, letting the buttons fall onto the dirt path one by one. He kicked them away and detached the remaining buttons on his waistcoat, as well, before sweeping the dagger back into its leather sheath on the saddle.
Thunder cracked again, startling her. The cooling wind, that whispered summer was almost at an end, gusted through the trees and flapped her skirts, causing them to balloon upward. She gasped, scrambling to keep her gown from exposing her lack of undergarments.
He eyed her and smirked. Removing his coat with a shrug, he revealed a yellowing linen shirt and well-fitted waistcoat. Pausing before her and the basket that separated them, he held out his coat. “Here. Put it on. It will keep your gown from lifting.”
She was officially impressed. “You,
, would be the first to try to keep my skirt from lifting.”
“I did not say I was doing it willingly, dearest.”
She gave him a withering look. “I take it you offer your coat to every woman you meet?”
He lifted a brow. “I used to let beautiful women take far, far more than my coat.” He leveled her with a stare. “But I have learned not to trust them to take off with my heart.”
She blinked. “Are you flirting with me?”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” He tossed the coat at her, startling her. “Take it.” He stepped back. “The wind appears to be strong enough to push this weather through. So hopefully, it will not rain.”
She scrambled into his coat before her gown decided to put on another show. The thick fabric was heavy and smooth, weighing her shoulders with an impressive expanse that draped down well past her knees.
Adjusting it over herself to keep it from falling, she paused, realizing the fabric had a melting scent of expensive cologne. It smelled like freshly hewn amberwood and spice and was so achingly divine, she wanted to do nothing but sniff, nuzzle and cuddle it.
She refrained. “Thank you for the coat.”
He said nothing. He simply removed his felt hat, causing strands of longer black hair to fall into his eyes. Brushing it back into his queue, he whipped the hat into the forest, well beyond the trees. Lifting his unshaven chin, he casually undid his cravat and flicked it aside. Stripping off his waistcoat that fully exposed his linen shirt, he hurled it.
She tightened her hold on his coat. “What are you doing?”
“I try never to be seen in the same clothing for long. I changed out of my last ensemble over an hour ago by a lake. After I went for a swim.”
She gaped. “Is there a warrant for your arrest?”
“I have no doubt there will be.” Holding her gaze, he set a gloved hand to his chest. “The name is Gérard. We will keep it to that until I have established what our relationship will be. I am still deciding.”
? “Do tell the jury my name is Thérèse.”
He lingered. “
.” He intently searched her face, dragging in a slow breath. “You certainly were blessed. Everything about you is…your face is—” He still lingered, searching her features.
She edged back. “Leave my face out of this.”
He lifted a dark brow. “What? Did I say anything?”
“You did not have to. I get it all the time. If you ever wonder why I wish to take to the stage, it is because my life
a stage. There is no difference. You men lose your minds around me. And whilst I appreciate the never ending parade of adoration, it does get to be annoying.”
He hesitated as if intrigued. “Are you saying men crawl for you?”
He had no idea. Men were the bane of her existence.
She had always wanted to be known for her intelligence and quick wit that had been rightfully earned whilst raising ten very rambunctious brothers, but how was a woman to become more than a face in a world obsessed with beauty?
She considered herself rather pathetic.
For she had no friends outside of her family. She never had.
All the girls in the village always snubbed her, snickering that she thought too much of herself. Which wasn’t true. They simply didn’t like the attention she always received. They blamed her for the fact that the boy of their dreams ignored them. Little did they know the boy of their dreams wasn’t even worth an oyster pie.
She set her chin. “They do more than crawl. Giverny and its men about exhausted me.”
“Is that so?” He rolled his tongue against the inside of his cheek. “If you are so tired of the attention, my dear, then why take to the stage? It will only make it worse. Actresses are the epitome of every man’s dream.”
She kept her chin set. “True. But at least I will get paid for it.”
“Money only ever shrouds other problems, you know.” He glanced judiciously around the forest, as if preoccupied by too many thoughts. The wind flapped the billowing sleeves of his linen shirt, outlining his broad physique and hinting at the impressive definition of taut muscle beneath.
Thérèse tried not to stare, but every time the wind shifted his linen shirt against his muscled arms and chest, it gave her more to admire. She pinched her lips in an effort not to dash up to him and tap each pectoral to see if it was real.
He eyed her and veered his gaze upward, searching the sky through the branches of the trees. “Fortunately, the weather does not appear to be getting worse. In fact, I am quite certain of it.” He pointed at the sky with a gloved finger and stared up at it with contempt. “I command you not to rain. I need to get to Paris without my gunpowder getting wet. Do you hear me?”
This aristocrat was talking to the rain.
To the rain
. As if he had power over it.
No wonder these people were getting stoned.
She peered up at the sky through the leaves and branches above and paused. Large patches of blue sky pushed out from between the dark clouds. Her lips parted. “Did you just command the weather into cooperation?”