“What about me?” she asks, trying to break the sudden tension.
But for the first time, Henry won’t look her in the eyes. “I’ve never been good at reading people.” He nudges the cup away, and stands, and Addie thinks she’s ruined it. He’s leaving.
But then he looks down at her and says, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”
And the air rushes back into her lungs.
“Always,” she says.
And this time, when he holds out his hand, she knows he’s inviting her to take it.
July 29, 1719
Addie has discovered chocolate.
Harder to come by than salt, or Champagne, or silver, and yet the marchioness keeps an entire tin of the dark, sweet flakes beside her bed. Addie wonders, as she holds a melting sliver on her tongue, if the woman counts the pieces every night, or if she only notices when her fingers skim the empty bottom of the tin. She is not home to ask. If she were, Addie wouldn’t be sprawled atop her down duvet.
But Addie and the lady of the house have never met.
Hopefully, they never will.
The marquis and his wife keep quite a social calendar, after all, and over the last few years their city house has become one of her favorite haunts.
Haunt—it is the right word, for someone living like a ghost.
Twice a week they have friends to dinner in their city house, and every fortnight they host a grander party there, and once a month, which happens to be tonight, they take a carriage across Paris to play cards with other noble families, and do not return until the early morning.
By now, the servants have retreated to their own quarters, no doubt to drink and savor their small measure of freedom. They will take shifts, so that at any given time, a single sentinel stands watch at the base of the stairs, while the rest enjoy their peace. Perhaps they play cards, too. Or perhaps they simply relish the quiet of an empty house.
Addie rests another bit of chocolate on her tongue and sinks back onto the marchioness’s bed, into the cloud of airy down. There are more cushions here than in all of Villon, she is certain, and each is twice as full of feathers. Apparently nobles are made of glass, designed to break if laid upon too rough a surface. Addie spreads her arms, like a child making angels in the snow, and sighs with pleasure.
She spent an hour or so combing over and through the marchioness’s many dresses, but she doesn’t have enough hands to climb into any of them, so she has wrapped herself in a blue silk dressing gown finer than anything she’s ever owned. Her own dress, a rust-colored thing with a cream lace trim, lies abandoned on the chaise, and when she looks at it she remembers the wedding gown, cast-off in the grass along the Sarthe, the pale white linen shed like a skin beside her.
The memory clings like spider silk.
Addie pulls the dressing gown close, inhales the scent of roses on the hem, closes her eyes, and imagines this is her bed, her life, and for a few minutes, it is pleasant enough. But the room is too warm, too still, and she’s afraid if she lingers in the bed, it might swallow her. Or worse, she might fall asleep, and find herself shaken awake by the lady of the house, and what a pain that would be, since the bedroom is on the second floor.
It takes a full minute to climb out of the bed, hands and knees sinking into the down as she scrambles toward the edge, tumbles gracelessly onto the rug. She steadies herself against a wooden post, delicate branches carved into the oak, thinks of trees as she surveys the room, deciding how to occupy herself. A glass door leads out onto the balcony, a wooden one leads into the hall. A chest of drawers. A chaise. A dressing table, topped by a polished mirror.
Addie sinks onto a cushioned stool before the vanity, her fingers dancing over the bottles of perfume and pots of cream, the soft plume of a powder puff, a bowl of silver hairpins.
Of these last, she takes a handful, and begins to twist up locks of hair, fastening the coils back and up around her face as if she has the faintest idea what she is doing. The current style is reminiscent of a sparrow’s nest, a bundle of curls. At least she is not yet expected to wear a wig, one of those monstrous, powdered things like towers of meringue that will come into fashion fifty years from now.
Her nest of curls is set, but needs a final touch. Addie lifts a pearl comb in the shape of a feather and slides the teeth into the locks just behind her ear.
Strange, the way small differences add up.
Perched there on the pillowed seat, surrounded by luxury, in her borrowed blue silk robe with her hair pinned up in curls, Addie could almost forget herself, could almost be someone else. A young mistress, the lady of the house, able to move freely with the safeguard of her reputation.
Only the freckles on her cheeks stand out, a reminder of who Addie was, is, will always be.
But freckles are easily covered.
She takes up the powder puff, the bloom halfway to her cheek when a faint breeze stirs the air, carrying the scent not of Paris, but open fields, and a low voice says, “I would rather see clouds blot out the stars.”
Addie’s gaze cuts to the mirror, and the reflection of the room behind her. The balcony doors are still shut fast, but the chamber is no longer empty. The shadow leans against the wall with all the ease of someone who has been there for a while. She is not surprised to see him—he has come, year after year—but she is unsettled. She will always be unsettled.
“Hello, Adeline,” says the darkness, and though he is across the room, the words brush like leaves against her skin.
She turns in her seat, free hand rising to the open collar of her robe. “Go away.”
He clicks his tongue. “A year apart, and that is all you have to say?”
“I mean no,” she says again. “That is my answer, to your question. The only reason you’re here. You’ve come to ask if I will yield, and the answer is no.”
His smile ripples, shifts. Gone is the gentleman; again, the wolf.
“My Adeline, you’ve grown some teeth.”
“I am not yours,” she says.
A flash of warning white, and then the wolf retreats, pretends to be a man again as he steps into the light. And yet, the shadows cling to him, smudging edges into the dark. “I grant you immortality. And you spend your evenings eating bonbons in other people’s beds. I imagined more for you than this.”
“And yet, you condemned me to less. Come to gloat?”
He runs a hand along the wooden post, tracing the branches. “Such venom on our anniversary. And here I came only to offer you dinner.”
“I see no food. And I do not want your company.”
He moves like smoke, one moment across the room and the next beside her. “I would not be so quick to scorn,” he says, one long finger grazing the pearl comb in her hair. “It is the only company you’ll ever have.”
Before she can pull away, the air is empty; he is across the room again, hand resting on the tassel beside the door.
“Stop,” she says, lunging to her feet, but it’s too late. He pulls, and a moment later the bell rings, splitting the silence of the house.
“Damn you,” she hisses as footsteps sound on the stairs.
Addie is already turning to take up her dress, to snag what little she can before she flees—but the darkness catches her arm. He forces her to stay there at his side like some misbehaving child as a lady’s maid opens the door.