I thought about Jacqui’s divorces: the tears and betrayals, the lawyers and arguments, and all the anger that lingered. This didn’t sound anything like that.

Denise said, “I can’t say we made a mistake, because out of all that we got Noah, so really we did this amazing, good thing. But we’re better as friends than as husband and wife. I’m not sure I’m meant to be married at all. I’m too fond of my freedom.” She tucked in the blanket and reached for the duvet. “And Luc, he deserves to be properly loved.”

We all did, I thought. And I didn’t doubt Luc would eventually find someone he could love back, but I didn’t have any illusions that it would be me.

I’d been told in no uncertain terms why I couldn’t have lasting relationships, and though the words had been hurtful they had at least kept me from being hurt further by letting me take a more practical view of the way I approached men, and what I expected.

So it was enough that Luc liked me, I reasoned, and that I liked him. And whatever developed between us while I was here working would be a nice memory to take with me when I went home.

Still, I couldn’t help feeling a small pang of wistfulness, as though I’d seen something in a shop window I wanted but couldn’t afford. And for once I was glad that my Asperger’s made my reactions mixed up sometimes, making me laugh in a sad situation—because when I straightened my side of the duvet and looked at Denise, all she saw was my smile.

Chapter 19

I love thee not, thou gloomy man. —Hard is thy heart of rock, and dark thy terrible brow.

—Macpherson, “Fingal,” Book One


February 15, 1732

She felt, not for the first time, very glad she had developed the ability to hide her inner feelings. When the Scotsman fixed his gaze upon her with that disconcertingly detached expression that might have been carved of stone, she parried with her brightest smile. He did not move a muscle of his face, but briefly dropped his gaze to Frisque, who from a comfortable position curled on Mary’s lap looked back at him as well, ears pricked and waiting.

Had she kept the corner seat she’d started with, she would have been across from Mr. Thomson, who was certainly more amiable to look at and converse with; but Madame Roy had suffered from the movement of the diligence, and when they’d stopped for dinner at midday Mary had changed seats with the older woman, giving her the corner place where she at least could lean her head against the seat back for relief. So Mary, for the hours since, had faced Mr. MacPherson.

They were not the only passengers. A frilly-looking woman and her two grown daughters, nearly Mary’s age, were also going to Lyon. They’d come aboard at Villejuif, and having taken one look at the Scotsman planted squarely at the center of the one seat, the protective mother had assigned her daughters to the other, next to Madame Roy and Mary, and for her own part had sat pressed as much as possible into the farther corner.

Mr. MacPherson, Mary thought, had that effect on people. Even with his leather case and swords stowed safely in the net provided for that purpose, and dressed in clothes that were both well made and respectable, he still looked fierce. It did not help that he was plain of face, his features made more unattractive by the hardness of their angles and the absence of emotion in his eyes. In looking at him for the past few hours she’d come to realize that his gaze seemed more intense because his eyelashes were fair. His hair was fair as well. He wore no wig, and from the hair that was not covered by his hat at sides and back she judged it to be only slightly less fair than her brother’s, gathered firmly in a queue tied with a plain black band at his collar, disregarding fashion for the sake of practicality.

She felt Frisque’s tail begin to thump against her lap and smiled to think the little dog was wagging at the Scotsman, not the slightest bit afraid of him and fully primed for play. Another man, she thought, might have reached out to pet the dog, or smiled at least. Mr. MacPherson only turned his stony gaze towards the window.

There was little there to see. The sun had set and it was nearly fully dark outside. They were arriving, so the driver had announced, at Fontainebleau, where they’d be stopping for the night. Two days ago, Mary would have thrilled at the romance of visiting Fontainebleau—an ancient village set deep in the forest that, just like the forest at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, was home to the French royal hunting grounds; where every autumn the King of France brought his bright court to a palace so beautiful it might have graced any fairy tale Mary could dream of, with gardens and fountains and statues that seemed, it was said, to draw breath. But it wasn’t two days ago. Now, Mary found she could summon no interest in Fontainebleau.

Having only slept fitfully for a few hours last night on a hard sofa while she'd awaited the signal to leave, she was sure any gladness she felt in the prospect of stopping was only because she craved rest, and because it would give some relief to Madame Roy, who’d passed the afternoon in stoic silence, uncomplaining but uncomfortable, her pallor and closed eyes the only evidence she felt unwell. Mary herself would be grateful to stop being jolted around for a while. She’d developed an ache in her neck and her back felt as stiff as her stays and her hair was beginning to fall from its pins so she had to keep raising a hand to repair it.

She was weary as well from the effort of keeping up bright conversation. With Madame Roy feeling poorly and Mr. MacPherson refusing to try to be sociable, it had been left up to Mary and Thomson to talk to the three women sharing the diligence with them. And after dinner, when Thomson had nodded off and stayed that way for an hour or more following, Mary had been left alone to converse as politeness demanded. The mother in particular was much inclined to gossip. Having chattered for some time about her daughters and their various accomplishments, she’d turned to asking questions about Mary and her “brother”—for despite another change of surname forced by the new papers of identity they carried, they’d maintained that false relationship and were now Mademoiselle and Monsieur Robillard. Mary, with all her experience making up stories to entertain, had put that skill to good use by inventing a fictional family with numerous cousins, connections, and lively, amusing adventures by which she diverted the woman’s more personal questions and rendered them harmless.

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