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Authors: Lila Dipasqua

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BOOK: Undone
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Robert shoved his plate aside. “Nonsense. With your naval successes and the wealth you’ve earned for the Crown, it will only be a matter of time—”

“It will
not
be a matter of time.”

“It will! I believe in our king. He is an intelligent man. He is young—true. But he
will
come around, and he will take the reins from Fouquet and Mazarin, and be the king he was meant to be.”

“Dear God, Robert, how can you say that? Louis had his coronation at fifteen. He’s now almost twenty-two, and still he doesn’t rule, letting others run his country for him—preferring to spend his time with his mistress and on his ridiculous ballets.”

Robert sat back, looking incredulous. “What in the world has gotten into you? I’ve never heard you speak this way. Becoming ennobled and an officer in the King’s Navy has always been your dream. Why this change of heart? Why
now
? You are so close to attaining all that you’ve worked for. What has happened?”

Grim, his heart heavy, Simon shook his head. “Thomas Jaures is dead. He was captured by the Spanish. My men found his body dumped on the French border. All evidence shows that he wasn’t executed but rather tortured to death. Gilbert and Daniel have yet to be found.”

Robert frowned. “I had no idea.”

“Without Thomas, it will prove most difficult to continue as in the past. To infiltrate with another spy of Thomas’s caliber will take much time…”
A friend like Thomas can never be replaced.
His brutal, senseless death would never be forgotten. “Fouquet’s demands for more captured silver from the Spanish are unceasing and ever growing. Mazarin is unconcerned with what Fouquet does with the Crown’s money so long as there is enough to fund his war and expand the realm. And the king simply doesn’t care about anything but dancing and fucking. I’ve had enough.” He felt disgust down to the very marrow of his being. Everything he’d done for his country and king, everything he’d worked for was now tainted.

In blood.

“Listen to me.” Robert grasped Simon’s wrist and gave it a squeeze to punctuate his words. “I know Thomas was your friend and a good man, but you cannot allow his death to cloud your thinking. We are at war with Spain. Men die. This is simply battle fatigue you’re experiencing. Nothing more.”

“This is not battle fatigue.
Dieu
. Don’t you see the corpses scattered around? I returned three weeks ago not only to learn of Thomas’s gruesome death, but also to find that our villages and country roads now resemble battlefields. Only there are no dead soldiers upon the ground. Just the lifeless bodies of innocent men, women, and children—dead of starvation. Driven by his infinite greed, Fouquet is literally taxing our people
to death
and using the funds from the Crown Treasury as his personal wealth!” Outrage yanked Simon to his feet. He began to pace, trying to settle his agitation, fighting back the urge to slam his fist into the wall.

After months at sea, he’d returned to see his dream replaced by a nightmare.

“You have no proof he steals,” Robert countered.

That stopped him dead in his tracks. “
Proof?
The proof is that obscene palace he’s building, right under Louis’s nose!”
Jésus-Christ
. The riches he’d put into Fouquet’s hands had helped create this monster!

How it fucking goaded him.

That he’d helped Fouquet succeed in his ambitions, enabling him to wreak such misery on the lower class, that he’d allowed himself and his men to be used as pawns—including Thomas, Gilbert, and Daniel—in Fouquet’s schemes had been eating away at his very vitals every waking moment for the last three weeks.

“Though I’d heard Fouquet was building a new abode for himself some time ago,” Simon continued, “I’d never seen Vaux-le-Vicomte before. Upon my return, I was ordered to deliver the Crown’s share of our recent captured silver directly to his new château.
Merde
. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gilded ceilings. Gold-woven rugs—opulence both inside and out—while decomposing bodies line the route to his ostentatious castle!”

So many wasted lives…
Simon felt sick inside. And responsible. “Our peasants have never before been in such a desperate state.” In all the carnage he’d been a party to during their war with Spain, nothing—absolutely nothing—had been more horrific than the devastation he’d witnessed since his return. Infants cold in death at their mothers’ breasts. The rotting flesh of countless forsaken souls. People of his own class.

It wasn’t all that long ago that he was just like them—helplessly impoverished.

“Simon, the peasants have always experienced hardships.”

“Hardships, yes. Decimation of this magnitude,
never
.”

Robert was born into nobility and privilege. He was a good man—in fact, there were few like him in his class—but he didn’t nor could he truly understand what it was like to be destitute—hopelessly trapped in poverty.

Always at the mercy of the upper class.

All Simon had ever wanted was never again to be vulnerable to the upper class the way commoners were. It was the reason he’d pursued social status long after he’d attained wealth, for wealth alone wasn’t enough to safeguard him. However, while chasing his ambitions, he hadn’t intended to impose suffering on those who had already suffered enough.

He should have heeded the niggling doubts he’d had about Fouquet since his appointment as Finance Minister. He should have seen the signs of corruption sooner. Now he could practically trip over the glaring evidence of it.

“Those poor souls are at the mercy of a Superintendent of Finance whose excesses are without conscience or limit, and whose actions go completely unchecked. And I”—Simon jabbed his finger into his chest—“have helped that serpent slither to the top.”

“All you have done is what was expected of you—your duty.”

Simon set his palms down on the table and looked Robert in the eye. “I’ve ordered men into battle and had them die in a war that is about nothing but profit for Fouquet and Mazarin. I want no part of Fouquet’s nefarious plans of grandeur. I’ve been chasing a fool’s dream. I want no part of any of this anymore.”

How could he have been so foolish as to believe that hard work and dedication could ever earn him an elevated position from men such as these?

“Giving up will not make it better for the lower class, I assure you,” Robert said. “Without the money you contribute to the Treasury, Fouquet will make it worse for them. For as long as Fouquet and Mazarin maintain their powerful posts, you must continue. Fouquet will not allow you to simply walk away.”

Simon slammed his fist down on the table, unable able to stem the fury that boiled in his blood. “
I know
. The accomplishments I believed would have elevated me from commoner and afforded me an officer’s commission are the very deeds that hold me bound to him now.”

The older man held up his hand. “Enough,” he said with finality. “This talk is mad and suicidal. I’ll continue my efforts to bend the king’s ear. In the meantime, rise above this. Remain focused on the prize you seek. You have earned it! For the love of God, don’t do anything to defy Fouquet. You will be arrested and executed for treason—and likely your men as well. Think of them…”

Simon sat back down, feeling weary. “I do think of them, Robert. They have fought, risked their lives,
died
—and for what?”

“For France. For the people. For honor.”


Honor?
Where is there honor in any of this?”

“There is honor in fighting for your country! And we have fought hard and true during this war! There is honor in
you
, in having the courage to reach beyond what life handed you at birth. Look at where you came from, and look at where you are now. The son of a fisherman is today a privateer commander of fourteen ships, seven of which are rented warships belonging to the king himself! And if that were not enough, do not forget the island.”

The island. His island. Oh no, he hadn’t forgotten
that
. It was the place he longed for…and hadn’t seen for two years.

Years ago, he’d sailed to New Spain to attack Spanish ships and ports for profit for France—just as he’d been ordered. It was there, among the many islands of the West Indies, some controlled by European colonists, others independent pirate kingdoms, that Simon found the island he’d named Marguerite.

It was now home for him, his men, and their families. Solidly fortified. Independently theirs.

“Once I have news about my missing men, I intend to return to the island for a while. Louis’s ships will remain, but my own will follow me back to Marguerite.”

He needed time away from France and war. He needed time to plan and think. He didn’t believe that Robert could sway their king. Moreover, he refused to be an instrument in Fouquet’s quest for personal gain any longer. No matter what Robert said, Simon couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was happening to his people, nor could he ignore the self-condemnation that tormented him.

What Robert didn’t know was that Simon had established new spies, not in Spain—where he’d placed Thomas, Gilbert, and Daniel—but as servants in Fouquet’s own domain. Spies who had already begun to provide information about Fouquet’s dealings—in commerce and trade, as well as personal matters.

Though it meant the death of a dream he’d craved for so long, he
was
going to get out of Fouquet’s clutches—but he’d have to be focused. And at the moment, he was far too enraged to concentrate. Or to lead himself and his men out of this perilous tangled web—
alive
.

“Perhaps a rest is best for now,” Robert ceded reluctantly. “But do not make it lengthy. You must make sure you continue to meet Fouquet’s demands.”

Wishing to change the subject, Simon asked, “Why don’t you return with me to Marguerite? There is sun, warm breezes, and attractive women to while away the time with.”

His comment drew a soft laugh from Robert. “I serve you better if I stay in France, particularly in Paris, with the king. I plan to return there tomorrow.”

“So soon?”

“Now that I am retired, I have been reacquainting myself with old friends…” Robert’s smile faded. “At first I missed the sea, Simon.
Dieu
, I missed it so…but now I realize that I miss something else more.”

“What is that?”

“A home. A wife. Children.”

Simon was shocked. “Regrets?
You
, Robert?” Over the years, he’d witnessed countless mistresses fill Robert’s leisure time. He’d always been completely contented with his bachelorhood.

Robert’s smile was rueful. “I wonder from time to time what my life would have been like had I chosen to marry.”

“It’s not too late.”

“Perhaps…” Then he added, “Perhaps it is something that you should consider.”

“Marriage?” He led a dangerous existence. And given what he was planning to do, it was in greater peril than usual. “That is the very last thing on my mind.”

“And what if one day you long for it?”

“Then and only then shall I give it a second thought.”

“Your pardon, my lord,” the old servant Henri said from the entrance of the dining hall. “Captain, the young lady is awake.”

 

Chapter Three

 

The unknown woman reentered the chamber.

The pain in Angelica’s head was excruciating. Nausea roiled her stomach. But she battled through it, determined to learn where she was and how she’d arrived there.

This was like a bad dream. She used to be plagued by them years ago.

But none had ever been like
this
.

The woman smiled. “Good morning, Signorina Angelica.” This time, she spoke in Italian, her tone gentle and no doubt meant to be soothing. But it didn’t soothe her in the least.

She clutched her forehead, willing the pounding to stop.

Forced to keep her voice low, knowing her throbbing head would worsen otherwise, she closed her eyes and demanded quietly, “Who are you? How do you know me?”

“My name is Marta. Gabriella told me your name.”

At hearing her friend’s name, she snapped her eyes open. “
Gabriella?
Where is she? What is this place?” Anxiety, dizziness, and pain all attacked her, torturing her with equal fervor. Reasoning had never been so challenging. The thought of rising from the bed was daunting.

“Where is Madre Paola? The Sisters?”

“Gabriella is fine and sleeping in another room.”


Where am I?
” she asked more forcefully.

“The captain will be here shortly to answer all of your questions.”

Shock and confusion tore through her mind. “Captain? What captain?”

“You may leave us, Marta.” A rich male voice came from the entrance of the bedchamber.

Dropping her hand from her forehead, Angelica darted her gaze toward the sound. Filling the doorway with his tall, sculpted form was the most striking man she’d ever seen… He had dark hair and riveting light-colored eyes—the light blue doublet he wore a perfect match.

A slight smile on his lips, he approached, moving with confidence and a masculine grace that exuded authority, and stopped at the foot of her bed.

Marta gave a quick curtsy and left, quietly closing the door behind her.

Oh God, she had no idea where she was, who
he
was. One thing was certain: she’d never seen this dark-haired stranger before. He wasn’t the sort of man someone would forget.

Stay calm!

She struggled up to a sitting position. A fresh wave of dizziness hit her squarely between the eyes. Briefly, she squeezed them shut and forced it back, needing to keep her wits sharp.

“I am pleased you’re awake. How do you feel?” He spoke in perfect Italian.

She ignored his question, for she had a few of her own. “Who are you? Where am I?” How many times did she have to ask these questions before someone provided answers? If this was indeed a dream, she truly wished to wake up now.

“I can understand your distress. But there is no reason for alarm, I assure you. My name is Simon de Villette. You are in a château in the south of France.”

BOOK: Undone
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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