Authors: Kirsty Ferry
Genevieve said nothing. She looked over Will’s shoulder in the direction of the house then spoke. ‘No. I think I’d rather be here actually.’ She looked at him again and a slow smile spread across her lips. ‘Having considered it, I quite like you in that outfit, Will Hartley.’ The meaning in her words was obvious. ‘But tell me, how did you escape from that business dinner?’
‘Quite easily,’ he said, ‘but let’s not talk about where I should be. Let’s talk about you. In fact, I’ve made a decision. I don’t think you should go back yet either.’ He took her hand and raised it up to his lips. ‘If I should delay you here, who else will be disappointed tonight? Apart from our friend Montgomery?’
‘Nobody,’ said Genevieve. She felt her cheeks grow warm as Will studied her face. She tried to control her breathing as he stood up, still holding her hand.
‘I don’t think I particularly like Montgomery,’ he said. ‘Why should he have you tonight?’ He leaned closer to her ear and whispered, ‘I wouldn’t want you to rush off to be with him.’ Will stood upright and used his free hand to scoop her hair away from the side of her face. She reached up and covered his hand with hers, looking straight into his eyes. He traced the line of her face with his fingers and dropped his hand from the side of her face. He cupped her chin. Genevieve caught her breath. ‘Ahhh, but not yet,’ he said. ‘It’s wrong for you to miss out on the dancing.’ He bowed low and held his hand out to her. ‘Will you dance with me tonight?’
He took hold of Genevieve around the waist and pulled her close to him. The material of his cloak was scratchy against her face and he smelled of frost and ice and outdoors. Genevieve did not resist. She closed her eyes and began moving with him to the faint music that spilled out from the Hall. When the music fell silent, Will pulled her closer to him. Genevieve found his lips on hers and, almost instinctively, she closed her eyes and gave herself up to him.
Afterwards, they lay on the chaise longue, covered by the cloaks. The fire had burned down to the embers, all warmth dissipating with the flames. Genevieve sat up in the freezing room and pulled the cloak closer to her.
‘Are you still going away tomorrow?’ she asked Will. ‘Are you still leaving me?’
‘It won’t be too long before I’m back,’ he said. He touched his hand to her face. ‘But I didn’t want to leave without seeing you tonight.’
‘So you’re doing what they want.’ she stated.
Will didn’t reply. Instead, he sat up and fumbled for his shirt. ‘I don’t have a choice,’ he said.
‘Yes, you do.’
‘No. I can’t take the chance of Joseph finding out about us again. If I stay, he could make things even more difficult for you.’
‘I can look after myself,’ protested Genevieve. ‘I can make things difficult for him. And for you.’
‘Joseph is dangerous, Veva,’ said Will, ‘we both know that.’ Genevieve unconsciously looked down at her wrist and rubbed it. Will followed her glance. ‘What was that for?’
‘I didn’t want to go to the ball,’ she replied. ‘It’s nothing.’
Will picked up her hand and kissed her wrist. ‘I wish I could take you with me,’ he said.
‘You could if you wanted to,’ she replied, watching him get dressed.
‘Maybe another time. Let me get this trip out of the way first,’ he said. ‘So, until we meet again,’ he touched her face one last time and dropped a kiss on her cheek, ‘goodbye, Veva.’ He turned away, slipping through the door and disappearing into the gardens. Genevieve remained under the cloak, watching the door shut. She reached around to the back of her head and unclasped a diamond-encrusted comb. She swept her hair back from her face trying to tidy it up and fixed the comb back in. She pulled her gown towards her and, shivering, she eased herself back into it, never taking her eyes off the door. Was that it then? Had he really gone? She felt numb. She hadn’t felt like that last time. Last time, he had told her that he loved her.
Genevieve damped down what was left of the fire and the ashes smouldered in the grate. She left the summer house, closing the door behind her. She gathered the cloak around her and wound her way back through the gardens towards the Hall. Her satin slippers were ruined, soaking wet and covered in grey slush. She couldn’t feel her toes. The door to the servants’ quarters was as she had left it and she took off the cloak and threw it back in the room. Someone was bound to find it and hang it up. She retraced her steps around the side of the house and tried to smooth her hair back, then she straightened her shoulders and pushed the French doors open. She squeezed through the gap and stepped back into the ballroom, feeling the colour flood her cheeks with the warmth of the room. Genevieve looked around at the hustle and bustle, so different from the peace and quiet in the summer house. Guests were talking and laughing, pushing through the various knots of people to reach the refreshments table or to sit on a chair at the side of the room. The smell of so many candles mingled with the ladies’ perfume made her feel sick.
‘Where have you been?’ asked Joseph, appearing beside her. The man missed nothing. His eyes raked over her, searching, it seemed, for some evidence of a misdemeanour.
‘I needed some air,’ Genevieve said.
‘Air?’ said Joseph. ‘Don’t lie to me. Where is he? What were you doing with him? Or need I ask?’
‘So many questions,’ replied Genevieve, almost mechanically. She looked around the ballroom and spotted Montgomery, standing alone. He turned to see her watching him and smiled, raising a glass to her. Joseph took a step towards her, his face twisted in disgust. Over his shoulder, Genevieve saw Montgomery place his glass on a table began to walk across to them.
‘Excuse me, dear brother,’ Genevieve said. ‘I believe this dance is marked on my card. I would hate to disappoint your friend.’ She moved away from Joseph, and began to walk towards Montgomery. She had understood that look on Joseph’s face all too well.
‘Miss de Havilland.’ Sir Montgomery bowed as she approached him. ‘Is it time for our dance? I do hope so.’ He took her hand and lifted it to see the dance card. Too late, she realised she had left the card in the summer house. And too late, he had seen the circlet of darkening bruises around her wrist. He lifted his eyes to meet hers and she tried to snatch her hand away. Montgomery held onto it, his eyes burning into hers. Genevieve stole a glance at her brother who was watching them, his face thunderous. The corners of her lips twitched into a harsh little smile. So, somebody here had noticed as well. Her half-smile was enough for Montgomery to realise what had happened and he let her hand drop.
‘I see,’ he said. ‘It’s very noisy, isn’t it? I could do with a change of scenery and some peace and quiet. Where do you recommend?’
‘Anywhere but here,’ replied Genevieve.
Montgomery bowed slightly and offered his arm. ‘Then shall we leave?’ he asked.
Genevieve tolerated him until they reached the library. Then she threw his hand off her and began to pace around the room.
‘I hate being touched,’ she muttered. ‘It’s like him doing it all over again. So, you can go now.’
She was aware of Montgomery moving over to the fireplace and watching her. She didn’t care. She was remembering Will, realising suddenly that he had left her with barely a backwards glance. If she allowed herself to process the thought thoroughly, she would feel cheapened. Instead, it was nice to recall, with perfect clarity how his hand had felt on her waist and how her skin had tingled as all the nerve endings leapt into life...
‘You don’t make things easy for me, Miss de Havilland,’ Montgomery said, interrupting her tangled thoughts.
Genevieve’s head snapped around and she stared at him. She focussed on him, wondering for half a second what he was doing with her in the summer house. Then her mind cleared. ‘In what way?’ she asked.
‘I’m just intrigued. Is there something you wish to tell me? Maybe I can help.’
Genevieve brightened. ‘Could you perhaps, erase my family from my life?’ She laughed. ‘Yes. Actually, I think that might solve all my problems.’ She looked down at her wrist and moved over to Montgomery. She lifted her hand up to his eye-level. ‘You saw this. You know what happens here,’ she said. ‘But this is nothing. Believe me.’ She began to pull out her hair combs and clips one by one, letting her hair fall in a dark curtain down over her shoulders. She had no intention of going back into that ballroom tonight. ‘Make my apologies for me. Tell them I have a headache,’ she said.
‘If that is what you wish,’ said Montgomery. ‘May I?’ he came closer to her and raised his hand. She flinched. ‘I’m sorry – I just want to help,’ he said. ‘I’m not your brother.’ She felt a pull as a clip was taken out of the back of her hair. Montgomery bowed and presented her with it.
She paused for a moment, then took it from him. ‘I apologise,’ she said. ‘Joseph is normally much more discreet.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ Montgomery said.
‘Thank you,’ said Genevieve, gathering her combs together and flinging them into the fire, ‘but it is. You see, it’s all my fault. Joseph keeps telling me that.’ She turned and glided out of the library, the soft rustle of her dress soothing against the cracking and spitting of the flames in the old fireplace. Halfway up the stairs, her mind went blank. She paused and smoothed her dress down, wondering why it had such burn holes in it. Not to worry. It wasn’t as if she was wearing it for a special occasion.
Once she had reached the top of the stairs, Genevieve hurried along the corridor towards her room. She pushed the door open and it slammed shut behind her. She pressed her weight against it, locking it securely with the big iron key. She left the key in the lock. She’d already learned to do that. Not stopping to remove her dress, she threw herself onto the bed. She thought again about Will and the fact that he was leaving her. What if that evening in the summer house had actually been their last? What if she waited for him and he never came back at all?
Someone began hammering on her door and shouting through the keyhole. She pulled a pillow over her head and muffled everything out. She knew that eventually she would fall asleep. She always did.
Genevieve woke up with a start, the shouting and noise staying with her. She was still lying on the top of her bed, in her ballgown, although the dress was crumpled and spoilt now. Then she realised the shouting and commotion wasn’t in her dream. It was actually happening in the corridor beyond her room. She crawled off the bed and padded over to the door. She crouched down and placed her ear to the door, trying to make out the shouts that seemed to echo around the first floor.
‘She needs to be taught a lesson. Give me the key.’ That was her brother.
‘Damn him!’ she muttered. What had she supposedly done now?
‘Joseph! Be careful. Remember what happened last time!’ That was her mother.
‘I don’t care. She’s brought it all on herself. I should have broken the door down last night – she’s lucky I didn’t. She just walked out! I’ll kill her!’
Genevieve stood up. She felt a thump on the door, followed by another thump and the mad rattling of the handle. Her heart beat faster and for the first time she felt scared. She knew what he was capable of. He had had a whole night to fester about whatever it was. She looked down at her dress and the memories flooded back. She felt slightly sick. Yes – there had been the ball, hadn’t there? Oh, God. She’d left it, hadn’t she? And Joseph wasn’t going to wait any longer to punish her, that was for sure. She looked around her room. The only safe way out was through the window. She checked that the key was still in the lock and hurried over to her dressing table. She rifled through the drawers, grabbing a couple of things. She pulled a hooded cape out of her wardrobe and fastened it around herself. She pinned her hair up loosely and threw open the window. The cold air made her catch her breath and she leaned out to see if anybody was circling the gardens below. She would put nothing past her brother.
‘Genevieve! Out of that room. Now!’ he shouted. The door groaned on its hinges and her heart fluttered again. She had to go and she had to go now. She didn’t know where to, and she didn’t know for how long, but she knew she couldn’t stay locked in her room. There was only one place she could think of. She prayed that he wouldn’t have left yet.