Read Beloved Online

Authors: Annette Chaudet

Tags: #General Fiction

Beloved (8 page)

BOOK: Beloved
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“No, I’m not unhappy. Truly. Everything is perfect. Monsieur Chabannier is very kind and I fancy I shall like being the wife of such a successful man.”

Richard looked at her skeptically, but she only laughed and moved back against him, kissing him on the cheek.

“You see? What I’ve said is true. A woman in love is a fool—my behavior proves it. Now smile for me and forgive me for being so emotional.” When her efforts to reassure him seemed to have little effect, she went on. “I
am
in love, you know.” Even as she said them, the words stuck in her throat.

She quickly tried to turn away but he caught her chin and turned her back to him.

“I do know,” he said softly. Then he kissed her gently, but his mouth lingered on hers, letting her know that he did understand and how very sorry he was that there was nothing he could do about it.

She snuggled down against him, relaxing at last. “Richard, don’t ever lose your tenderness,” she said softly.

“What?”

“You have a unique tenderness, a way of making a woman feel very special. It’s a gift, one you mustn’t misuse. Don’t ever lose it.”

“Any gift I have, has come from you.”

She lifted her head to kiss him and this time when their lips met he felt her desperation.

Then, suddenly, there was a dull thud, as though a chair had overturned, followed by muffled curses. The sounds seemed to come from across the hall. Richard pulled away from Maryse to listen.

“It’s late. They drink too much,” she whispered against his cheek.

He smiled and turned to kiss her again, but this time there was yelling, a scream and the sound of breaking glass. Richard was out of bed like a shot, quickly pulling on his breeches and rushing into the hall. Maryse wasn’t far behind him.

The sounds of a struggle, a woman pleading, blows and more overturned furniture were coming from the room directly across from Maryse’s. Richard went to the door and tried the handle but it was locked. He pounded on the ornately painted panel, but the disturbance within continued.

“Go away, I don’t need any help,” came the drunken reply.


Mademoiselle?
Are you all right?” Richard had no intention of leaving things as they were until he could determine if the young lady was safe.

There was no answer, but the hallway was beginning to fill with curious women and their patrons in various stages of undress.

“Monsieur
,
open the door…” Richard insisted patiently.

All that could be heard from the other side of the door were loud whispers followed by blows and screams. Richard put his shoulder to the door and then threw his weight against it, easily breaking the lock.

There was no light in the room except for the guttering candles in the branched candelabra on the table beside the bed. Richard saw a man, his shirt half off, bending over a woman crouching on the floor. He grabbed at the man’s shoulder to pull him back, but as he turned to take a drunken swing, Richard recognized him.

“Guy?” Surprised, he easily caught Guy’s arm and blocked the blow.

Guy was very drunk and it took a moment for the recognition to sink into his alcohol-muddled brain. He shook his head in an effort to clear it, and pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Richard?” he said, stumbling against his friend.

Richard held Guy upright and looked over to the girl. It was Geneviève. The front of her
casaquin
was ripped and the remains of her delicate corselet hung from her waist. There was a welt on her cheek and a bruise along her collarbone and her lovely blond hair was a mess, half of it hanging down around her tiny breasts. She was obviously terrified.

Richard pushed Guy into one of the chairs and went to help Geneviève to her feet.


Mademoiselle
, are you hurt?”

Geneviève just stared at him, then slowly began to shake her head and to pull at her tattered clothing in an effort to cover herself. Richard put his arm around her and helped her to the door where Maryse was waiting. As they passed, Guy grabbed for her, but Richard caught his arm. When Guy saw the look in Richard’s eyes, he released her.

Richard closed the door behind the two women.

“How can you let her go?” Guy wailed. “She cost me a fortune and I haven’t even had her yet.”

Richard was disgusted and it took all the control he could muster to keep from dealing Guy a blow that might easily put him out for the rest of the night.

“How can you possibly expect to make love to a woman if you frighten her like that?” Richard said, shaking his head in exasperation.

Guy stared at him, amazed by Richard’s naiveté. “I—she’s stupid—doesn’t have the first idea how to behave with a man.”

Richard laughed derisively and saw a wave of anger flash in Guy’s unfocused eyes.

“Forgive me, my friend, but if you wanted an experienced woman, whatever possessed you to spend your money on that girl? Experienced virgins are a rare commodity.”

Guy was not at all soothed.

“Come, why not call it a night?” Richard reached out to put a hand on Guy’s shoulder, but Guy pulled away, staggering to his feet in an effort to confront Richard eye to eye, no small task considering the fact that he was a good deal shorter.

“No! Who do you think you are, taking her away from me?” She was so beautiful, so innocent. He’d only wanted to talk to her, to tell her…but then, she’d touched him.

Richard’s patience had totally evaporated.“You have no right to hurt these women, no matter what you paid for them!”

Guy sneered. “Oh? Is that so? Perhaps you don’t know as much as you think you do! There are women here…”

“Then choose one of them and leave that child alone!”

Guy could see Richard wasn’t interested in listening to him. And what did Richard know, anyway? A pampered rich boy who’d always had only nice things—nice tutor, nice family, nice life. What did he know about the things that weren’t so nice?

There was a soft knock at the door. It was Maryse.

“Has he calmed down?” she whispered. “Claire is willing to finish the night with him.”

For a moment, Richard was undecided. He hated to leave anyone alone with Guy. He leaned against the edge of the door, staring at the floor.

“Do you still want a woman?” he asked without turning.

Guy laughed, but there was deep-seated anger beneath the harsh sound. “Of course I want a woman. I’m a man, aren’t I?”

Richard shook his head and opened the door, wide enough to admit Claire, a tall, voluptuous woman whose heavily hennaed hair did little to disguise her age. Richard caught her arm as she entered. She looked up and saw the concern in his eyes.

“Don’t worry,
chéri
,” she said, briefly taking his chin in her hand. “Monsieur Jonvaux and I are old friends.” Her hand rested lightly against his bare shoulder as she turned to Guy. “Aren’t we?”

Guy finally focused on her and his muddled brain made the connection.

“Not that one…I won’t have her. She’s deformed!”

Claire laughed loudly. She looked back at Richard and this time he saw the sadness behind her broad smile.

Her hand trailed slowly down, over the hard muscles of his chest to the unbuttoned waist of his breeches.
Lord, why don’t the Fates ever send me one like this?
She sighed, then turned and sauntered over to Guy, confidently sliding her arm around his waist. Slowly, she pulled the tie on her robe and opened it, displaying herself seductively to Richard.

“You tell me,
chéri
, am I deformed?”

Before Richard could respond, Guy grabbed Claire’s hair and pulled her head back, exposing a long rough scar that ran from just under her ear to her collarbone.

“You see?” he screamed. “Disgusting!” He roughly pushed her away. She was marked. He’d marked her himself. Everyone knew what she was, and if she tried to tell what she knew, no one would believe her.

Claire laughed again. She noted the way Guy was looking at Richard and suddenly she understood what had made Guy so angry that he’d felt compelled to attack her with the dagger. It wasn’t what she was but rather what she wasn’t. In her business she had seen it a hundred times and thought nothing of it. But Guy had nearly cost her her life. So foolish. So unnecessary.

“But Monsieur
,
you said that scar would be something to remember you by, and so it is.” She moved closer to him and parted his shirt, rubbing her breasts against his skin. “And I do remember,” she whispered.

For a moment Guy did nothing, then he pulled her against him and kissed her hard.

One hand behind her back, Claire motioned to Richard to leave. She knew that Guy had already forgotten the girl. In a matter of minutes, she was confident he would be sound asleep.

Reluctantly, Richard returned to Maryse’s room, not completely convinced that Claire would be able to control Guy. Maryse had her arms around Geneviève, who was still crying. Her attempts to comfort the girl had been largely unsuccessful and her eyes begged Richard for assistance.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, putting a hand on Geneviève’s head and brushing back some of her disheveled curls.

She looked up at him and began to cry even harder. Richard unwound her arms from Maryse’s waist and enfolded her in his own.

“Get her some brandy.”

While Maryse fetched the decanter, Richard continued to hold the sobbing Geneviève, gently stroking her hair.

“Geneviève,” he said softly. “You must tell me, are you hurt?”

She shook her head but remained as she was, her cheek pressed against his bare chest, comforted by his embrace.

“Here, Gigi, this will help you.” Maryse offered the brandy.
Who in the world had allowed Geneviève to go with that man?
He had an unpleasant reputation among the girls, but he had money and she knew that, in the end, Geneviève had gone to the highest bidder.

Geneviève drained the glass Maryse offered, but remained clinging to Richard. He took her chin in his hand and turned her head, studying the side of her cheek. The red mark along the bone was showing every sign of darkening into a sizeable bruise.

“I think we’d better put a cold cloth on that.” He gently eased her away from him so that he could look at the marks on her collarbone.

Geneviève felt herself blush as his hands moved over her breasts and shoulders, gently probing the spots where Guy had struck her. She winced at the pain, but allowed him to continue until he was satisfied that the damage was superficial. Richard clenched his teeth in anger, barely able to suppress the urge to go back across the hall and give Guy a more suitable opponent than this poor child who had tried so hard to play the part of a woman.

Maryse helped Geneviève out of the remnants of her corselet and her
casaquin
and into something from her own closet, then sat her down in front of the mirror and began to repair her coiffure. As Geneviève sat holding the cloth to her cheek, the brandy began to have an effect and she seemed to relax a little. Richard poured brandy for himself and Maryse. When he passed the glass to Maryse, Geneviève reached out and touched his arm.

“Monsieur, you’re a man…” Her red-rimmed eyes begged for an answer. “Can you tell me what I did wrong?”

“I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But he was so angry with me, and I don’t know why.” Her eyes began to fill with tears again.

“Geneviève,” Richard said sternly, as he took her by the shoulders and forced her to confront her reflection. “Look at yourself. You are a very beautiful young woman, and there is no reason for any man to treat you like that. Monsieur Jonvaux simply had too much to drink. I would, however, advise you to avoid him in the future.”

Richard stepped back, giving Maryse the opportunity to finish repairing Geneviève’s hair.

“Now, isn’t that better?” Maryse said as she added a final touch of powder to cover the bruise on the girl’s cheek.

“Yes, thank you.”

“All right then, you had best get yourself back downstairs, before the night is over.” She brought one of her own fringed silk shawls from the bed and offered it to the girl.

Geneviève looked up at Maryse, horrified. “No…please! I can’t!”

“Come now, Gigi, you must. Tonight’s the night,” Maryse said firmly. “By tomorrow you must be an experienced woman.”

“Maryse—no—please! It’s very late and all the men are drunk. I can’t, not again! Please!” Geneviève was terrified at the prospect of being pawed by yet another drunken patron who would pinch and probe her body as though he were selecting a ripe melon. When she saw she would get no support from Maryse, she turned to Richard. “Monsieur
,
please!”

Richard looked from the stricken girl to Maryse. Much to his surprise, Maryse began to smile.

“She could stay with us,” Maryse offered, the tone of her voice making her meaning clear. “Afterall, she’s been paid for.”

“Money isn’t the issue here,” Richard said pointedly, expecting Maryse to understand that he had no wish to get involved with Geneviève, especially to the degree she was suggesting. He had no interest in girls that young.

Maryse went to him, carefully placing her hand on his chest. She knew he wasn’t pleased with the turn the evening had taken, not to mention the prospect of taking a virgin to his bed. She doubted that he’d ever had one, but perhaps he should. And she couldn’t hope to find a kinder lover for Geneviève.


Saai Jai
,” she whispered, “She deserves to know your tenderness, especially tonight. Think of it as a gift.”

Richard sighed, knowing as he looked at Maryse’s beautiful lips, that he could deny her nothing.

“But she’s only a child,” he protested lamely.

Geneviève stood up and went to him, snuggling up to him on the opposite side.

“I assure you, Monsieur
,
I am no child.”

Maryse and Richard looked at each other and laughed, remembering that first night when he had confidently assured her of the very same thing.

The next afternoon, when Maryse’s door opened, the door across the hall opened as well, but only a crack. Richard stepped out into the hall with Geneviève and Maryse, both of them with their arms around him. They were all in high spirits though Richard would have been the first to admit that he was exhausted.

BOOK: Beloved
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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