Genevieve steadied herself against the cold marble of the mantelpiece.
“I’m tired of this, Gabriel. I don’t think I can do it anymore.” She closed her eyes, her throat tightening as the words tumbled freely at last.
“Do what exactly, my dear?” he huffed, looking out onto the sprawling landscaped gardens of the estate. “A bit of high-society mingling and some needlepoint? Of course, there’s your reading—” he paused, clasping his hands behind his back, “—and the painting lessons…”
He turned towards her; the first eye contact they’d made since she’d entered the room.
“They’re becoming a lot more frequent these days, aren’t they?” He shot her a cold, hard stare. She brushed an invisible fleck of dirt from her dress, trying desperately to conceal the fluster in her cheeks.
“Yes, it’s a passion of mine now – I don’t deny it.” The quiver in her voice all but negated the conviction. Her heart pounded as her eyes slid to the elaborate carvings on the fortepiano in the corner.
“I don’t doubt it for a second.” His thick heels clicked sharply on the polished wood as he marched towards her. She flinched as he swooped in, the coarse fibres of his blond wig scratching her ear. “As long as you keep it a secret, Genevieve. I’m afraid I don’t do public humiliation very well.”
Heat roiled in her belly as she subtly pushed her precious fabric further down inside the drawing bag dangling from her wrist. “Of course,” she said smoothly. “Anything to avoid upsetting you, Gabriel.”
Their eyes met and locked in silence – conveying more than words ever could. Gabriel dropped his gaze then made for the gilt-edged doors leading to his private chamber. He stopped; his hand resting on the curved gold handle as he glanced over his shoulder. “Just be discreet, that’s all I ask.”
She smirked at the irony. His less than subtle dalliances with the stable boy were the worst-kept secret in the chateau. She certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that his frequent trysts hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“You knew the deal before the wedding. So it’s a little late for regret now, mmm?” He tugged at the sleeves of his lilac silk jacket as though they were a source of immense irritation. “The sooner you provide me with an heir – maybe even a spare – the better for us both, yes?”
A warm tear spilled down her cheek onto the stiff bodice of her dress; the exact spot where her beloved pendant kissed her skin beneath the blue embroidered silk.
The bedroom doors clicked shut and Genevieve stood alone in the room, thinking about the façade of togetherness they would dutifully re-enact for the invited aristocracy that evening. She’d long perfected the regal smile, polite chit-chat and perfunctory handshakes. But it was the intimacy of the dancing or the moments he would snatch her hand for effect, that made her want to weep; made her heart break just that little bit more.
She stepped out into the dim hallway to the distant echo of familiar footsteps – allowing herself a smile as they came ever closer. Her eyes caught the black key in the lock of the door, just as a firm, warm hand slipped into hers.
As she turned to face Henri and felt the sweet, comforting warmth of his breath on her lips, a bad thought crept into her mind. He nodded towards the door at the bottom of the corridor; leading to the room they had shared many painting sessions in. But the look in his dark brown eyes suggested there would be no art involved when they closed the door behind them this time.
With her pulse racing and every nerve-ending on fire, they hurried down the long, narrow corridor. But, Genevieve could resist it no longer. Casting one last glance over her shoulder to focus on the black key, she reached inside her bag with trembling fingers. Holding her breath, she finally heard the sharp turning click she’d been waiting for.
Then, she had another bad thought…