Read Undone Online

Authors: Lila Dipasqua

Tags: #General Fiction

Undone (6 page)

BOOK: Undone
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“Excuse me…” Gabriella interrupted from the doorway, looking nervous and unsure.

The old servant, Henri, reached the door in a great rush. “Your pardon, Captain. I will return the mademoiselle to her chambers straightaway.”

Simon waved Henri away. “Gabriella, come.” He rose, momentarily surprised to see her out of her religious garb and dressed in a pale blue gown. He’d ordered that a chest of women’s clothing, captured from one of the Spanish ships, be offered to the two women. From the way Gabriella kept smoothing her hand over the skirt of the gown, he could tell she very much liked the garment made for aristocracy. One of the servants had clearly helped her dress. Her auburn hair was arranged in a fashionable coiffure of ringlets.

What would Angelica look like in such finery? His blood warmed at the mere thought.

Gabriella stepped forward. “I-I’m sorry to disturb you. I would like to see Angelica.”

“She is asleep at the moment,” Simon said. “She was awake earlier and was seen by a physician. He advises that with some rest, she will be well in a few days. If you wish, you may see her when she awakens.”

She brightened. “I would like that very much. I cannot thank you enough for your kindness.”

Simon brushed off the comment. He could hardly look at his action as a good deed when his conduct had been initially motivated more by a disreputable inclination than a gallant one. “Allow me to introduce you to two of my commanders. Gabriella Santino, this is Armand Rancourt.” Armand gave her a nod and a bow. “And this is Domenico Dragani.”

Domenico approached with a smile, took her hand, and pressed a kiss to her knuckle. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” He gave her a sweeping bow.

Gabriella blushed and beamed. Simon shook his head, amused.

Armand leaned toward Simon and asked sotto voce, “Does she speak French?”

Simon had asked her that very question onboard the ship. “No.”

Turning to Domenico, Armand inquired in French, “Do you detect any warts? Or whiskers?”

Domenico smiled. “Not a one,” he responded in kind, his look indicating approval of her feminine qualities.

“Domenico, why don’t you show Gabriella the gardens?” Simon suggested, noting her instant pleasure over the prospect.

Needing no further encouragement, Domenico tucked Gabriella’s hand in the crook of his arm and left the room, boasting about his knowledge of the botanicals on the château’s grounds.

Gabriella looked pleased to be out of the convent and content to keep it that way. If only Simon could understand why her friend felt such a compulsion to return.

*****

“Angelica… Where is my little Angelica?”

She was six and giggled as her father called out to her from the grand foyer of their country estate, his voice drifting up the stairwell to her small ears. Quickly, she dashed down the stairs, her small shoes tapping on each step in her rapid descent.

“Papa!” She jumped into the outstretched arms of the man she loved the most and looked into his adoring eyes, then at her mother who stood by smiling as she watched their loving exchange. Her long, dark curls flounced about as he spun her around. And around. She squealed happily, hugging his neck with fierce affection; his laughter filled her world with joy. Her surroundings blurred. Objects became indistinguishable. And the laughter suddenly changed then from gaiety to harshness. Cruelly taunting her.

Her world stopped revolving at once.

Laughing down at her was the face of another man her mother had called husband, yet Angelica could only call him “Evil” in the quiet of her fourteen-year-old mind.

Angelica jolted awake to find herself sitting up in bed, her heart pounding. Her head balked at the sudden movement, punishing her promptly with a sharp pain.

Pressing her fingers to her temples, she tried to knead away the ache. She hadn’t had a nightmare like that in years. No doubt it had occurred because she was in France.
Near Fouquet.

She suppressed a shudder.

Her stepfather came from one of the most distinguished, powerful parliamentary families in the realm. Fouquet had influence. And authority over her. If he ever found her, she’d be at his mercy.

And he had none.

Never again would she allow herself to be in his clutches. Cunning, manipulative, ambitious, Fouquet had had different faces, one for her and her late mother and another for everyone else. Most had no idea of his malicious nature. For so long his malevolent conduct had been limited to savage words, mostly directed at her poor mother, but shortly after her mother’s death, one horrible night, his wickedness had progressed beyond the lash of a vicious tongue.

On that night, she saw what the future held for her. And ran.

She’d been away from France a very long time. She’d no idea how many friends her stepfather had or how far-reaching those friendships were.

She had to return to her safe haven.

She knew she could convince Madre Paola to take both her and Gabriella back. Madre Paola’s bad temperament was the lesser of the two evils—by far. In the last six months since Madre Paola had become the new Mother Superior, Angelica had had no serious conflicts with her. As long as she abided by the rules, she’d avoid further discord. And she was going to swear never to break the rules again. How she missed the former Mother Superior, dear, kind Madre Caterina—her tender face. Her gentle ways. Her death had drastically altered Angelica’s world.

Or so she’d thought until yesterday.

Yesterday, her world had turned completely upside-down. All because of one man.

Simon de Villette.

The servant had called him
Captain
. That meant he had to be an officer in the King’s Navy—as only nobles were granted such commissions in the realm’s official navy. He certainly had a commanding presence.

Not to mention the bluest eyes she’d ever seen.

She tossed the covers off, dismayed by her thoughts.
Who cares what color his eyes are?
Or that he was handsome. None of that mattered.

The only thing that mattered was getting out of France.

Simon de Villette not only could but
should
return her and Gabriella safely to Genoa. Though her sweet friend had always been easily discomposed, she had to have been significantly overwrought over Angelica’s condition for her to have aided Simon the way she had. She hated having caused Gabriella such distress. She was anxious to find her, reassure her she was all right. That everything was going to be fine.

And return with her to the only real home Gabriella had ever known.

Carefully, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, the ache in her head a manageable discomfort. Her equilibrium passed a second test when she stood on her own two feet. Pleased, she let out a sigh.

She was going to speak to the man responsible for bringing her to France—determined to leave its borders forever before the next sunset.

Just then something yellow on the bed caught her eye—a brocade gown, garnished with gold ribbon and lace. It was beautiful, reminding her of a gown she’d owned long ago. Reaching out to touch the rich fabric, she stopped short.

That way of life is over.
A life she wanted no part of, for it came at a terrible price. Her life now belonged elsewhere.

Smoothing her hand down the coarse fabric of her gray garb, she turned away. A search of the chamber yielded neither her wimple nor veil, but at least her shoes were there. She slipped them on, brushed her fingers through her hair, and walked out the door.

*****

Angelica reached the great foyer on the main floor without encountering a single soul.

All the doors were closed except one, the partially open portal offering a glimpse of what lay inside.

The compelling sight urged her forward.

She opened the door wider and stared in awe. From floor to ceiling, from wall to wall, shelf upon shelf of glorious
books
.

Entering the library, she gazed in appreciation at the extensive collection, while the ornately carved hearth and costly furnishings failed to impress. Gently, she ran her fingertips across the spines of the leather-bound volumes as she walked along, her eyes taking in as much as she could. Oh, how she loved to read.

Having access to a library such as this would be absolute heaven.

One of the books caught her attention. She stopped. Pulling the small brown leather volume from the shelf, she read the cover and smiled, caressing her fingertips over the imprinted gold title.

“What are you doing here?” The male voice shattered the silence.

She jumped. The book dropped from her hands onto the floor with a
thump
. Whirling around, she was startled to see Simon de Villette standing in the doorway, a frown on his handsome face, his devastating blue eyes pinning her to the spot.

 

Chapter Five

 

Simon approached her slowly, his brow slightly furrowed.

Unable to stop herself, Angelica took in his male beauty. He, not the books, now dominated the room. How was it possible that he looked even better than before?

A few wayward strands of his dark hair played against his lashes, but it was his mouth that captured her attention.

Such an appealing mouth…

She looked away, horrified by the workings of her mind. It had to be her headache that was distorting her thinking.

He stopped before her, towering over her.

The bookshelves against her back kept her fixed in place. She was keenly aware of the limited space between their bodies, his proximity causing her body to warm.

“I asked you a question.” His voice was quiet but firm.

Gazing up at him, she tried to clear her head by taking in a deep breath, but it only served to draw in his wonderful scent. She couldn’t quite describe it, but it was tantalizing in the extreme.

What was the matter with her? She shouldn’t be reacting to him this way. She’d chosen a cloistered existence, or rather, it had chosen her. Nonetheless, she’d accepted her future long ago.

“You should not be wandering about alone.” He spoke softly, his voice deep and rich in her ears. It reverberated through her belly with wicked appeal. Lightly, he stroked his knuckles along her bruised cheek. “You should be in bed. You are still injured.”

She closed her eyes briefly.
Get hold of yourself.
This was the second time he’d touched her. Instead of drawing back, as she would have expected, she found herself wanting to draw near. It was a stunning reaction. As stunning as the tiny tingles that sped up her spine at his caress.

“My malady has much improved,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound as discomposed as she felt.

He lowered his arm and his gaze.

It took two wild heartbeats before she realized he was staring at something on the floor. She forced her gaze down, her insides still quivering with the residual pleasure of his small caress. The book she had dropped lay on the woven rug.

He was staring at her again, one dark eyebrow slightly cocked, before he retrieved the fallen item.

“You—I’m afraid that you startled me, and the book—I dropped it…”
Definitely not your most eloquent response, Angelica.
She turned her gaze away to a safer sight than the far too attractive Simon de Villette.

“You can read this?” he asked.

Her eyes darted back to his. The book was in French. She wasn’t about to divulge that she could indeed read every word in the book of love sonnets. In fact, she was gripped with the most powerful urge to devour each and every beautifully romantic line.

She quashed the silly yearning.

“No. It’s written in French, is it not? I couldn’t possibly…” His penetrating gaze made her uneasy. She wished she could read his thoughts behind those disarming light-colored eyes.

“But you
can
read, Angelica.” Yet again he managed to unbalance her by the way he spoke her name. It was astonishing what it did to her insides every time he said it.

He’d done nothing but show kindness toward her. His manner was gentle, attentive. His words spoke of concern for her welfare. Yet she was forced to stoop to deceit. She simply couldn’t lower her guard. Not for a moment. Not with a single soul. Keeping her secrets had kept her safe. And she wasn’t about to break with precedent.

Besides, this man
was
dangerous. No one had ever inspired these physical responses from her before. The sooner she left France, the better.

“I learned to read at the convent,” she lied.
Again.
“I teach there…the children in the orphanage…” At least that was the truth, albeit clumsily told.

He placed the book back on the shelf. “Why?”


Why?
” She knitted her brow in confusion.

“Yes. Of what use is it to teach the children of commoners?” Despite his words, she had the distinct feeling he was not expressing his personal view of literacy and the lower class. He was trying to draw information from her.

She chose her next words carefully. “At the convent, we believe everyone should have the opportunity of an education, noble or peasant. Male or female.”


Your pardon, Captain.
” The French phrase came from the doorway.

Relief washed over her when she saw the old male servant standing at the threshold of the library.


Your meal awaits you in the dining hall, sir.

Simon gave a nod. “
Merci, Henri.
” He turned to her. “Have you eaten?”

“No…”

He smiled. “Good. Then you will join me this evening for supper.” He tossed out phrases to Henri in French, ordering him to set another place in the dining hall.

Though she’d wanted to speak to him, the thought of dining alone with him was daunting. She seemed to be completely out of sorts in his presence at the moment, struggling to get her mind and mouth to work together.

“Perhaps Gabriella would like to join us?” she said with a polite smile. If he would summon her friend, she was certain she could get through the meal and convince him to return them to the convent.

BOOK: Undone
3.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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