Authors: DeVa Gantt
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and encouragement in all our endeavors,
especially the Colette Trilogy.
PEACE of mind! Oh, the oblivion of peace of mind!…
IT was an hour past daybreak and Charmaine and the…
AN hour before Sunday Mass, Yvette announced she was not…
WILL you marry me, Charmaine?”
CHARMAINE’S eyes fluttered open. The bedside lamp cast a glow…
CHAOTIC commotion gripped the front lawns. A throng of servants,…
SPENT of curses, Frederic found the morning less to his…
PAUL raked his hand through his tousled hair, breathed deeply,…
CHARMAINE woke with a start and sat upright in Pierre’s…
The Duvoisin Family:
Frederic Duvoisin—Patriarch and master of Charmantes; son of Jean Duvoisin II, founder of Les Charmantes (deceased); brother of Jean III (deceased)
Elizabeth Blackford Duvoisin—Frederic’s first wife (deceased 1808)
John Duvoisin—Only son of Frederic and Elizabeth; heir to the Duvoisin fortune (born 1808)
Paul Duvoisin—Frederic’s illegitimate son (born 1808)
Colette Duvoisin—Frederic’s second wife (born 1810; deceased 1837)
Yvette and Jeannette Duvoisin—Twin daughters of Frederic and Colette (born 1828)
Pierre Duvoisin—Youngest son of Frederic and Colette (born 1834)
Agatha Blackford Ward Duvoisin—Older sister of Frederic’s late wife, Elizabeth; John’s aunt; Frederic’s third wife
People living in the Duvoisin Mansion:
Charmaine Ryan—Heroine of the story (born 1818 in Richmond, Virginia), governess to the Duvoisin children; only child of Marie and John Ryan
Rose Richards—Elderly nursemaid to Yvette, Jeannette, and Pierre; formerly nanny to John and Paul; originally hired by Jean II to care for Frederic as a young boy
Professor Richards—Rose Richards’s husband; formerly tutor to John and Paul; initially hired by Jean II as a tutor for Frederic (deceased)
George Richards—Rose and Professor Richards’s grandson; close friend of John and Paul; production manager and overall supervisor of island operations (born 1809)
Jane Faraday—Head house keeper
Travis Thornfield—Butler and Frederic’s personal valet
Gladys Thornfield—Travis’s wife; Agatha’s personal maid
Millie and Joseph Thornfield—Travis and Gladys’s children
Dr. Robert Blackford—Island physician; Agatha’s twin brother; older brother to Frederic’s first wife, Elizabeth; John’s uncle
Harold Browning—Charmantes’ overseer
Caroline Browning—Harold’s wife; sister of Loretta Harrington
Gwendolyn Browning—Harold and Caroline’s only daughter
Stephen Westphal—Charmantes’ financier; manager of the town bank
Anne Westphal London—Stephen’s widowed daughter; resides in Richmond
Father Benito St. Giovanni—Island priest
Jake Watson—Harbor foreman
Rebecca Remmen—Wade’s younger sister; friend of Gwendolyn Browning
Dulcie—Proprietress of the town tavern
Marie Ryan—Charmaine’s mother, abandoned as a young child at the St. Jude Refuge (deceased 1835)
John Ryan—Charmaine’s fugitive father
Father Michael Andrews—Pastor of St. Jude’s Church and Refuge
Sister Elizabeth—Nun and teacher at the St. Jude Refuge
Joshua Harrington—Charmaine’s first employer
Loretta Harrington—Joshua’s wife; sister of Caroline Browning
Jonah Wilkinson—Captain of the
, the Duvoisin merchantman
Edward Richecourt—Duvoisin lawyer
Adele Delacroix—Colette’s mother (deceased)
Pierre Delacroix—Colette’s brother (deceased)
Pascale—Colette’s childhood girlfriend
Tuesday, August 22, 1837
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. She rose 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 his apartments 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
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.
John’s interest was piqued, his brow raised. She knew that expression: it meant trouble. Sure enough, he stopped Jeannette as she passed behind him and removed the envelope from her hand.
“What have we here?”
“A letter,” Paul snapped.
“A letter?” John mimicked. “Thank you for explaining, Paul. I’d almost forgotten what a letter looked like. But Miss Ryan hasn’t forgotten, has she?”
Charmaine paled, but John pressed on, tapping the envelope against his lips. “Mrs. Joshua Harrington of Richmond, Virginia. Harrington…where have I heard that name before? Ah yes, the merchants’ convention last year. Joshua Harrington was leading the protest against import tariffs. I remember him quite well now. A short-tempered man, if my memory doesn’t fail me, short and short-tempered.”
“I found him quite the contrary,” Paul argued.
“Now, Paul,” John countered jovially, “he isn’t a
man by any measure.”
George snickered, but Paul’s brow knitted in vexation. “I was speaking of his temperament!”
“Well, I don’t know which side of him you saw, but he quickly lost his temper when I spoke with him.”
“Were you taunting him, John?”
“Why would I do that? He just doesn’t have a sense of humor, that’s all. I simply commented that, with a name like Joshua, he had to be a prophet and should consult with God before delivering his next ludicrous speech. After that, he wanted nothing to do with me, which suited me just fine.”
Paul closed his eyes and shook his head in exasperation.
“But that is neither here nor there, is it, Mademoiselle?” John continued, serious again. “You have correspondence to post, and Joseph normally sees to such errands. However, he is busy cleaning up the mess in my room. Therefore, I volunteer to deliver it to the mercantile for you.”
“That is very noble of you, John,” Paul responded before Charmaine could object. “However, Miss Ryan would like to know it was, in fact, delivered.”
“Now, Paulie, are you suggesting I would drop this by the wayside?”
“Let us just say I, too, am gallant, John. Since you have no reason to travel into town, while that is my very destination today, let me take it.”
“No, I think not, Paul. You see, I do have a reason to ride into town. I have my own letters to post, and since Miss Ryan doesn’t trust me, this is the perfect opportunity to prove to her I’m not the scoundrel she imagines me to be—that her letter will be delivered to the mercantile, intact.”
“Admit it, Paul. You have an ulterior motive for visiting the mercantile. A tête-à-tête with Maddy Thompson perhaps?”
“I’m finished playing games with you, John,” Paul snarled. “If you insist on posting the letter, then by all means, go ahead.”
“Oh goodie!” John exclaimed, inciting a chorus of giggles from the girls.
For Charmaine, however, the fate of her correspondence was far from settled. “Had I known my letter would cause such a quibble,” she laughed artificially, “I would have left it in my room. Best I post it myself.” She leaned forward to remove it from John’s hand, but he held it out of reach and disagreed glibly.
“The children have lessons, do they not? Surely you won’t allow a personal matter to interfere with that? No? I didn’t think so. But fear not! I give you my solemn oath as a gentleman; your letter will remain safe in my hands. If there is something else that troubles you, George will vouch for me when I tell you that—unlike a certain individual who shall remain unnamed—I have never bent so low as to read someone else’s private mail.”
“Besides, I don’t need to read your letter to know what you think of me. You’ve made that abundantly clear on a number of occasions.”
Charmaine remained closeted in the playroom with the children, hoping upon hope John would leave for town and she’d be free to arrange a picnic lunch with Fatima. It was nearly eleven and unlike Paul, who had spent the morning in the study with George, John had dawdled the last three hours away. Where was his ambition to carry out the task for which he had so eagerly begged at breakfast?
Presently, she turned her mind to an arithmetic lesson, trying not to dwell on her two latest predicaments: the postponed picnic and John’s delivery of her letter to the mercantile. Would he read it?
He could, and she’d never know! Fool that she was, she had committed her hatred to paper, and now the devil himself possessed it!
John Duvoisin. Yes, she hated him! Hated how he scorned and mocked her. Hated how he singled her out and ridiculed her just for the fun of it. Hated how he presumed to know so much about her character. Hated how he loved to make everyone miserable. Hated him like she hated her father. Hated him, hated him, hated him! Colette’s words of long ago haunted her:
Just remember…you hate him first.
Hate him first? What came after that? She seemed to remember something about loving him. Ridiculous! She’d hate him first, second, third, and forever. She prayed fervently for the day when he would pack his bags and return to Richmond. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Beyond the confining room, doors banged shut and footfalls resounded in the corridor, setting her on edge. She left Jeannette and Yvette to their problems, and stepped onto the veranda. The breeze was invitingly cool for August, rustling the leaves of the tall oak overhead. Looking toward the paddock, she was rewarded with the fine sight of Paul, who stood with arms akimbo, conversing with George and two stablehands. Charmaine admired the authority he projected, lingering on his broad shoulders and lean torso, slim waist and well-defined legs, the muscles in his thighs sculpted against the dark fabric of his trousers. Highly polished ebony riding boots finished the lusty figure he cut. She closed her eyes to the heart-thundering image and remembered that first day on the
, his shirt doffed, the play of muscle across his broad back and arms, deeply tanned from the island sun. He was the embodiment of the perfect man, like the great Roman statues in the museums of Europe.
She thought of their kiss in the gardens last night, and her heart raced. His embrace had been passionate and longing, and despite her inhibition, she relished the pleasurable memory. His racy invitation simmered in her ears, and she breathed deeply, counseling herself to
tread cautiously. She was playing with fire. It would be best to avoid another such encounter. Even now, she realized how difficult that would be, for as he clasped an easy arm around the shoulders of a young stable lad, she fancied herself in those strong arms once again.
The main door banged shut, and the vision was lost. Charmaine gingerly stepped forward and peered down, jumping back when the devil incarnate descended the portico steps. He wore a brown leather cap, white shirt, light brown trousers, and matching boots. His gait was lazy, yet deliberate, a self-assuredness she would love to see crushed. In her brief three-day experience, she knew this would never happen. She had never met anyone who exuded such confidence, not even Paul. Colette’s remarks once again echoed in her ears:
He’s an enigma…a one of a kind.
Thank God, one was quite enough!
He was halfway to the stables when Paul stepped out of the circle of men. Charmaine held her breath when they reached each other and Paul initiated an exchange, a concise remark she couldn’t hear. John waved a letter in his brother’s face:
one single solitary letter.
He spoke next, another short phrase that drew Paul around and sent his eyes traveling up the face of the mansion. Within a moment, he found her, a smile breaking across his lips. Charmaine shook her head. John must have known she was standing there, watching them. How had he known? Or had he? He was probably playing Paul for the fool and got lucky.
John disappeared into the stable, emerging minutes later with a great black stallion in tow: Phantom, according to the twins. The proud beast fought the bridle, his sable coat shimmering in the late morning sun.
A groom led another horse out. When George took the reins, Paul threw his hands up. “I won’t be long!” George called from the saddle.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for John to mount up as well. No one, not even Paul, rode the “demon of the stable,” so dubbed
because he was constantly breaking out of his stall, jumping the corral fencing, evading stablehands or nipping the other horses. Great care was taken to segregate him. Clearly, John intended to do what his brother had the good sense to avoid, and Charmaine planned to laugh loudly when the stallion threw him onto his conceited rear end.