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Decision and Destiny
Tuesday, August 22, 1837
Peace of mind! Oh, the oblivion of peace of mind! They were Charmaine's last thoughts as she drifted off to sleep. Like a prayer answered, she succumbed to a deep and restful slumber, the first she'd had in three long nights.
Songbirds in the great oak just outside her window awoke her, and she lay abed enjoying nature's symphony, a harbinger of the brilliant day ahead, one that was perfect for a picnic. Sherose and peeked into the children's room. They were fast asleep. She began to dress, determined to get an early start.
The letter she had written to Loretta Harrington sat propped on her chest of drawers. She scanned the pages, resurrecting the turmoil of the past three days.
I was pleased to receive your letter . . . I am quite well . . . The children are a constant comfort to me and I enjoy my position on the island . . . I still do not understand Mr. Duvoisin's marriage to so cruel a woman as Agatha Ward . . . I avoid her whenever possible . . . Paul is the consummate gentleman, and aside from Rose and George Richards, I sometimes feel he is the only friend I have in the house . . . George returned this past week, but you should not harbor hope of him as a possible suitor . . . my thoughts have been far from such concerns . . . John Duvoisin has ventured home, even though it is whispered his father forbade him to do so. His presence has rekindled my former reservations concerning matrimony. I can understand Frederic Duvoisin's disdain for his own flesh and blood, for John is a rude,ill-bred, detestable cur who spends his days closeted in hisapartments drinking from dawn to dusk. I've tried to avoid him at all costs, but he appears at the worst possible times, and I find myself poorly equipped to respond to his sarcasm. He has taken a dislike to me for a number of reasons. He's learned of my father, undoubtedly through his intended bride, the widow Anne Westphal London . . . Do you know her? But I am not the only person he ridicules. He wages war with practically everyone, including his aunt or stepmother, as the case may be . . . Tell Mr. Harrington he was never more correct in his opinion of a person than he was of this man. Please give everyone my love . . .
Sighing, she tucked the letter into its envelope. Then she sat at her dressing table and began brushing out her unruly hair.
The serenity of the morning was shattered by a series of vociferous oaths that brought her straight to her feet and into the corridor. Joseph Thornfield was racing down the stairs, a wooden bucket tumbling after him, ricocheting off the walls and splattering water everywhere.
"Damn it, boy! I love hot baths almost as much as I love music, but I refuse to be scalded into singing soprano in a boys' choir!"
Charmaine turned toward the bellowing voice, and her jaw dropped. There stood John Duvoisin, dripping wet from head to toe, leaning far over the banister, and shouting after the servant boy. He was naked save for a bath towel clasped around his waist, unperturbed by his indecent state of undress. Charmaine compared him to Paul—the gold standard by which she assessed all men—annoyed to find his toned body rivaled his brother's: wide shoulders, corded arms, and taut stomach, which sported a reddish hue. Belatedly, she realized she was no longer staring at his back. She grimaced as she lifted her gaze and her eyes connected with his. A jeering smile broke across his face, his pain apparently forgotten now that he had the governess for an audience.
"You're as red as a ripe apple, my Charm. I thought my brother had shown you a man's body, or did I interrupt that lesson in anatomy the other night?"
Degraded, Charmaine marched back into her bedchamber and slammed the door as hard as she could. Her gratification was minimal; it was a full minute before his laughter receded from the hallway.
It was still early when she left her room again. Her plans for a quiet breakfast had been dashed. John had effectively roused the entire household, except for Agatha, who ate in her boudoir. Paul, George, and Rose converged on the staircase. Charmaine prayed John would be delayed, but, lately, none of her prayers were being answered. He appeared just as they reached the dining room.
"Good morning, everyone!" he greeted brightly, winking at her.
She glowered in response, but he dismissed her, settling at the table with the children, who were thrilled to see him. She hesitated, debating where to sit. With Paul still talking to George in the archway, she remained indecisive.
John noticed at once. "Do you plan on eating, Mademoiselle, or will you just stand there and watch us? You paint the picture of a wounded dog awaiting table scraps."
The demeaning declaration stung like salt in an open wound, the promise of a brilliant day rapidly fading. Taking courage, she stepped closer.
"Ah yes," he mused, pretending ignorance of her quandary and coming to his feet, "the lady expects a gentleman to help her with her chair, but since Paul is preoccupied right now, I suppose a convict like me will just have to do!"
He rounded the table and pulled the chair out for her. With a great flourish, he whisked a napkin through the air and dusted off the seat cushion, finishing his theatrics with a servile bow and a gesture she be seated. She did so with as much aplomb as she could rally, but as she spread her serviette in her lap, her eyes went to Paul, whose jaw was clenched in monumental self-control.
John returned to his own chair, and chatted with George,Rose, and the children, the meal uneventful until Jeannette produced the letter Charmaine had written to Loretta Harrington.
"Shall I give this to Joseph to post, Mademoiselle?"Charmaine cringed. "Yes, please," she hastily replied.Decision and Destiny
Colette's Legacy. Copyright (c) by DeVa Gantt . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.