“La Trémoille. Mais non!” says Madame Geoffrin, but there is no disbelief in the words, only surprise. “I shall have to chastise Charles for keeping you a secret.”
“You must,” says Addie with a sheepish grin, knowing it will never come to that. “Well, madame,” she continues, holding her hand out for the book. “I should go. I would not want to hurt your reputation, too.”
“Nonsense,” says Geoffrin, eyes glittering with pleasure. “I am quite immune to scandal.” She hands Addie back her book, but the gesture is not one of parting. “You must come to my salon. Your Diderot will be there.”
Addie hesitates, the barest fraction of a second. She made a mistake, the last time they crossed paths, when she settled on an air of false humility. But she has since learned that the salonnière prefers women who stand their ground, and so this time she smiles in delight. “I would like that very much.”
“Superb,” says Madame Geoffrin. “Come around in an hour.”
And here, her weaving must become precise. One slipped stitch, and it will fall apart.
Addie looks down at herself. “Oh,” she says, letting disappointment sweep across her face. “I fear I don’t have time to go home and change, but surely this won’t be appropriate.”
She holds her breath, waiting for the other woman to answer, and when she does, it is to extend her arm. “Don’t bother,” she says. “I’m sure my ladies will find something that suits you.”
They walk together through the park, the maidservant trailing behind.
“Why have we never crossed paths before? We know everyone of note.”
“I’m not of note,” demurs Addie. “And then I’m only visiting for the summer.”
“Your accent is pure Paris.”
“Time and practice,” she answers, and it is, of course, true.
“And yet, you are unmarried?”
Another turn, another test. Times before Addie has been widowed, has been wed, but today, she decides, she is unmarriable.
“No,” she says, “I confess, I do not want a master, and I’ve yet to find an equal.”
That earns a smile from her hostess.
The questioning continues all the way past the park and up to rue Saint-Honoré, when the woman finally peels away to ready for her salon.
Addie watches the salonnière go with some regret.
From here, she is on her own.
The maidservant leads her upstairs, and lays a dress from the nearest wardrobe out on the bed. It is a brocaded silk, a patterned shift, a layer of lace around the collar. Nothing she would choose herself, but it is very fine. Addie has seen a piece of meat trussed up with herbs and readied for the oven, and it reminds her of the current French fashion.
Addie sits before a mirror and adjusts her hair, listening to the doors open and close downstairs, the house stirring with the motions of arriving guests. She must wait for the salon to be in bloom, the rooms crowded enough that she will blend in among them.
Addie adjusts her hair a final time, and smooths her skirts, and when the sound below becomes a steady enough thing, the voices tangling with the clink of glassware, she goes down the stairs to the main room.
The first time Addie ended up in the salon, it was by luck, not staging. She was amazed to find a place where a woman was allowed to speak, or at least to listen, where she could move alone without judgment or condescension. She enjoyed the food, the drink, the conversation, and the company. Could pretend to be among friends instead of strangers.
Until she rounded a corner and saw Remy Laurent.
There he was, perched on a footstool between Voltaire and Rousseau, waving his hands as he spoke, fingers still stained gray with ink.
Seeing him was like missing a step, like fabric snagging on a nail.
A moment thrown off-balance.
Her lover had grown stiff with age, the difference between twenty-three and fifty-one marked in the lines of his face. A brow furrowed from hours reading, a pair of spectacles now balanced on his nose. But then some topic would spark the light in his eyes, and she would see the boy he’d been, the passionate youth who came to Paris to find this, great minds with great ideas.
There is no sign of him today.
Addie lifts a glass of wine from a low table, and moves from room to room like a shadow cast against the wall, unnoticed, but at ease. She listens, and makes pleasant conversation, and feels herself among the folds of history. She meets a naturalist with a fondness for marine life, and when she confesses she has never been to the sea, he spends the next half hour regaling her with tales of crustacean life, and it is a very pleasant way to pass the afternoon, and indeed the night—this night, more than most, in need of such distraction.
It has been six years—but she doesn’t want to think of it, of him.
As the sun goes down, and wine is swapped for port, she is having a lovely time, enjoying the company of the scientists, the men of letters.
She should have known then, that he would ruin it.
Luc steps into the room like a gust of cool wind, dressed in shades of gray and black, from his boots to his cravat. Those green eyes, the only drop of color on him.
Six years, and relief is the wrong word for what Addie feels at the sight of him, and yet, it is the closest one. The sensation of a weight set down, a breath expelled, a body sighing in relief. There is no pleasure in it, beyond the simple, physical release—the relief of trading the unknown for the certain.
She was waiting, and now she is not.
No, now she is braced for trouble, for grief.
“Monsieur Lebois,” says Madame Geoffrin, greeting her guest, and Addie wonders, for a moment, if their crossing paths is only a coincidence, if her shadow favors the salon, the minds fostering within—but the men who flock here worship progress instead of gods. And already, Luc’s attention has fixed squarely on her, his face suffused with a coy and menacing light.
“Madame,” he says in a voice loud enough to carry, “I fear you have opened your doors too wide.”
Addie’s stomach drops, and Madame Geoffrin draws back a little, as the conversation in the room seems to peter, still. “What do you mean?”
She tries to back away, but the salon is crowded, the path muddled by legs and chairs.
“That woman, there.” Heads begin to turn in Addie’s direction. “Do you know her?” Madame Geoffrin does not, of course, not anymore, but she’s too well-bred to acknowledge such a misstep.
“My salon is open to many, monsieur.”
“This time you have been too generous,” says Luc. “That woman is a swindler and a thief. A truly wretched creature. Look,” he gestures, “she even wears one of your own gowns. Better check the pockets, and make sure that she hasn’t stolen more than the cloth from your back.”
And just like that, he has turned her game into his own.
Addie starts toward the door, but there are men around her, on their feet.
“Stop her,” announces Geoffrin, and she has no choice but to abandon it all, to rush for the door, to push past them, out of the salon and into the night.
No one comes after her, of course.
Except for Luc.
The darkness follows on her heels, chuckling softly.
She rounds on him. “I thought you had better things to do than plague me.”