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Chapter 21


My eyes flashed
open and I realized that I was sitting up in Julien's bed.
I felt hands grasp for me in the dark, before I heard Julien's voice try to
soothe me. "Amira, darling, are you okay? Did you have another
I slumped back against him, trying not to hyperventilate again. This was the
fourth night in a row that I had such a vivid nightmare as that. It had been
weeks since I had nightmares from my incident, but now they seemed to haunt me
every night. I didn't know what was causing them, but I truly wished they would
"Okay," I said, my voice shaky. I knew Julien felt helpless, but
there really wasn't anything he could do. I just had to endure them as long as
they lasted.
"Did I tell you about your surprise next week?" Julien asked, clearly
sleepy still. This caught my interest.
"What surprise?"
Even exhausted as he was, Julien laughed at me in my eagerness. I knew he was
only trying to distract me, but it was working.
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now would it?"

“No…” I replied,
“I suppose it wouldn’t.”
I was beaming for the rest of the morning. After getting ready for work, I
headed over to meet with Marie in the kitchen as she had asked the night
before. Usually we met in the foyer to discuss with the other two housekeepers
our plan for the day, but this sounded like it was just going to be me and her.
Whatever that meant.
I finished up my egg and cheese croissant that Gervaise happily had ready
waiting for me when I came into the kitchen. I gave him a hug, and fixed my
uniform, nervously waiting for Marie.
Her demeanor was no different than usual when I saw her click across the
kitchen in her same old black shoes. When she turned towards me after grabbing
a cup of coffee, however, I knew I was in for it. Whatever we were about to
talk about… it wasn't gonna be good.
She gestured for me to have a seat at the table, and I slowly sat down, not
taking my eyes off of her for even a second. I could feel the apprehension rise
in my body, as if I were waiting for a coiled up snake to strike at me any
She cleared her throat. "I do not play the games, Miss Jackson. You know
that. I ask you so to know what is going on with you and Monsieur Malveaux. I
want truth."
Well, I couldn't say that I wasn't expecting it. But I
wasn't expecting it.
I bit my lip, unsure of how to reply. "Well what exactly do you want me to
say? I know you're not blind. Julien and I are together right now. And I… I
care about him."
Marie frowned at me, crossing her arms tightly against her chest. "You
care about him? After short time with him? I know you feel care about him, but
are you sure this isn’t about his wealth?"
My jaw dropped open. Did she really just say that?
"I don't know what you're trying to get at, Marie, but please don’t
question my feelings for Julien. They are real, and I don't need to answer to
anyone about them. He knows how I feel, and that's all that matters," I
replied, my voice feeling tinny even in my own ears. I quickly rose from the
seat and walked right out of the kitchen, unsure of where I was heading.
The further that I went down the hall, the faster than I walked. And then I was
practically running out the door, headed to the secret garden. I made it to one
of the benches outside and sat down, trying to catch my breath.


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Chapter 22


I don’t know how long I had been sitting there, my chest heaving as I
cried hard. I knew Julien wasn’t going to be around for a while, so I was left
all by myself to deal with Marie’s accusations against me. I knew that she
truly cared about Julien, but her remarks to me were so cold…


But was she right?


I had to question my own motives, even though I knew I was no
gold-digger. Just because someone grows up poor, doesn’t mean that they
suddenly leap after the first guy with deep pockets. I shook my head, trying to
clear the negative thoughts that threaten to swell inside. I didn’t want to let
her words get to me, but they already had.


Out of the corner of my eye I saw Alain slowly make his way over to
me, pulling his hat off and holding it against his chest. I tried to wipe my
face, knowing that it was no use. It was obvious that I had been crying,


“My sweet Bree, what is wrong?"


I didn't really want to say. Whether it would have created a problem
between him and his wife I wasn’t sure, but I definitely didn't want to be put
in the middle of it. Then again, maybe he would understand things a little
more, at least more so than Marie did.
"I know you've noticed me spending more time with Julien...”


“You mean to say that you are together,” Alain replied, smiling


“Yes… We’re together…” I said.


“Love is beautiful. Why do you cry?”


“Because I’m not sure I’m good enough for him… Am I only attracted to
him because of this?” I replied, waving toward the estate.


Alain scratched his head, finally coming to the realization of what I
was getting at. He nodded his head slowly.


"Marie spoke to you…”


I just looked toward the ground, not wanting to catch his eye.


“She is very . . . how do we say? Protective. She has always been this
way. Her heart sees differently than you or I. We weren’t able to have children
of our own, so Julien? He is our child. He is a grown man, but she worries over
him like child."
I took what he said to heart. I knew deep down that Alain was right, and Marie
was just being protective of Julien, but I still felt she'd had overstepped a
boundary. Or two.
"What do
He smiled at me and shook his head, being evasive. "My opinion is of no
matter. You are a wonderful person. Julien is wonderful person. Birds of a
"Thank you for that, Alain. I guess I needed to be reassured."
He shrugged his shoulders. “Marie will come to understand. Give her time.”


The conversation was over. Alain stood up and gave me a
light pat on the shoulder, and I smiled.


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Chapter 23


The rest of the evening had gone progressively well, considering. I
tried to steer clear of Marie even though it was pretty hard to do so.
Everywhere I went, she followed. I would be in one room, and she would be
sweeping in the next room, scuffling about.


I paid it no mind and once my shift was over, I went to go relax and
take a dip in my tub.


When I got back to my room I saw that I wasn’t alone. Sitting on my
bed among the many fancy pillows was Julien. He raised a brow at me, beckoning
for me to come to him. My body ached to slide into the comforts of hot water,
but even so, there was some sort of pull from him. He wanted me near, and I
couldn't deny him that.


He pulled me into his arms, letting me rest my head against his chest.
His hands traced up and down my arms, warming me up.


"I heard what happened earlier… With Marie…”
Julien brushed his fingers across my face, attempting to soothe me. I turned
away. I knew he was only trying to help, but I didn't want to be soothed—I
wanted answers.


"And what do you think about what she said?" I asked,
wondering if maybe he wasn't thinking the same thing himself.


Of course he wasn't… that would just be silly of him. If there was one
thing I realized at that moment, it was that I had stopped thinking that Julien
was plotting something against me. He clearly had feelings for me or I wouldn't
be in the position I was in, literally
figuratively speaking.
"I told her how I feel… I told her she is wrong about you. Marie isn’t
good at apologies, but I promise you, she is sorry for the things she said. She
likes you, despite her apprehensions.”
Well, I definitely wasn't expecting that.

“She is just wary as she's always been. I ask that you please forgive


I took a deep breath.




We were silent for a few moments, just being close to each other… I
felt happiness welling up inside me. Finally, Julien spoke.


“I have something else to talk to you about."
I sat back up, turning so that I was facing Julien. "Something else? Like
A smile spread across his face, the same smile I had been hoping to see every
time I looked at them. "This may seem a bit . . . unorthodox to you, but
I'd really like to take you out. A little further, this time…."
"We've gone out plenty. What's so different this time around?" I
asked, my eyes steadily trained on his luscious mouth. Okay, so sometimes is a
little easy for me to get wrapped up in other parts of Julien. Even when he was
talking to me.


" I was actually thinking that I would take you with me to
Gardien De La Mer


"Gardien De La Mer? What exactly does that mean? Is that like a
restaurant, or something?"


Julien chuckled, patting me on the knee. "As much as I would love
to keep this a surprise from you,
De La Mer
is my yacht. I wanted to take a short cruise on the Mediterranean,
and I was hoping you would accompany me..."


My eyes nearly bugged out of my head. "Seriously? The
Mediterranean, Julien? Is this even real life? "I practically shrieked.

"Yes, I had hoped you would be excited about it. The Mediterranean is
absolutely beautiful, and is one my favorite places to relax and step away from
work for a little while. I know we've been doing a lot of that recently, but
one of the perks of being me is that I can relax whenever I'd like… And right
now I'm wanting to relax with you. Just one long and amazing weekend. What do
you think of that?"
I sat there, stunned. Something like this was overwhelming. I took in a deep
breath, trying to sort it all out my head. What could this mean? I knew he had
feelings for me… but these were feelings on top of feelings!


“I think that sounds amazing…”


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Chapter 24


I had the chance to go on a boat for a New Years Eve party once, but I
had bowed out. I made up a silly excuse because I couldn’t let my friends know
I was scared. I was a city girl who never learned to swim, and the idea of
being out on the ocean filled me with apprehension…
As we stepped onto the gangplank, I gripped the bar tightly in my hand, the
skin on my knuckles paling. The forced smile on my face wasn’t fooling anyone.
Julien was right behind me, his hand on my waist as he tried to guide me up the
steep slope. I was so focused on the water that I hadn’t really taken in just
how big his boat really was. I guess it was to be expected that Julien wouldn’t
settle for less…
The yacht was like a white iceberg against the creamy blue of the horizon.
Hulking, strong, yet the lines and planes of it were soft and regal. If someone
had asked me what I thought about boats in general, I would've been pretty much
indifferent. But now, standing in front of this masterpiece masquerading as a
boat, I had to admit they were pretty cool.
Once we were inside, I paused for a moment. There had been plenty of instances
within the past few weeks where I’d been completely overwhelmed by what I was
seeing. This was turning into another one of those moments. When you think of a
boat, you think up something very simple, something that gets you from one point
on the water to the other.


This wasn’t that kind of boat… This was a mansion on the water.


Instead of the antiquated look that the château possessed, the yacht
had a more modern feel. It was more


He squeezed me from behind, his hands circling me tightly. "So,
what do you think?’" I could hear the smile in his voice.

"I've never seen anything like it. It’s beautiful, Julien."


Julien dropped his hands, walking over to one of the many counter
spaces along a long wall. "This boat is something quite special to me. My
great-grandparents were fishermen, and they used to fish right on the coast of France.
They came from nothing and made a way for themselves… And for the rest of my
family… They were good people, and this boat is my small tribute to them."


I nodded, raising my brow for effect. "This is one hell of a


He narrowed his eyes at me, playing along. "Are you trying to
suggest that my intentions here are not completely humble in thought?"


I laughed, rolling my eyes at him. "You said it, not me."


“What can I say… I enjoy the greatest pleasures in life…”


He grabbed my wrist and spun me toward him, his eyes blazing. I bit my
lip as he embraced me up against the wall. His mouth came down on mine hard,
pressing deeply against me, more so than ever before. His hands traveled at my
sides, gripping my waist tightly again.
Suddenly I was completely aware that someone was watching us out of the corner
of my eye.


"Uh, Julien?" I muttered, pulling back for a moment. He
quickly pulled away from me, straightening out both my top and his jacket. The man
in the fancy hat cleared his throat and looked away. Well, at least I wasn't
the only embarrassed party here.
"I apologize sir. I only came to tell you that we are getting ready to
disembark. Shall I go ahead and pull anchor?"
I couldn't help but giggle. Hearing the way the guy spoke so formally cracked me
It didn't take long for the man to disappear, taking off to what I assume to be
the yacht’s version of a cockpit. And now Julien was all mine once more. But he
had other things on his mind...
"Let me go ahead and show you to our quarters. I think you'll be very


And with that we were off, going down not one deck but two, to where
the entire bottom half was a cozy yet spacious bedroom, with a beautiful en
suite. I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was still overwhelming. Every new
little thing I saw, every little thing that he showed me was a delightful gift…
And coming from what had happened to me before… Being so far away from the rest
of the world with Julien? It was hard not to get wrapped up in my feelings.


He sat down on the squishy bed, patting it for me to sit down. When I
did, he turned towards me more, something fierce in his eyes. I didn't know
what he was about to say, but it seemed serious. And I didn't think I was ready
for serious, when there was so much more fun to get into this weekend.


"Amira… I just wanted to say… I love you.”
My eyes widened, but I said nothing. How could I? My brain was frozen in time,
wishing he could go back and replay the very words he’d just said to me. He
loved me. He was in love with me. And here I was, unable to find the words to
reply... Why did I always freeze up like that?
I cleared my throat, excessively trying to get past lump that was forming in
it. Even after a few deep breaths, it was hard for me to formulate anything to
say. Anything that made sense, anyway. I smiled meekly at him, the room
starting to spin around me violently fast. More breaths, deeper and deeper. And
faster. It only took a moment before Julien realized that I was
hyperventilating, much to both of our dismay.

"Not the reaction I was going for… Amira, are you okay?” he asked in as
soothing a way as he could.

My heart was jumping for joy somewhere under all the panic. I quickly tried to
fan myself, hoping that more air would break me out of this freaky breathing
thing I was doing.
Julien pulled me back up to the main level to a convenient seaside window,
cranking it open carefully. I pressed my face along the thin windowsill, trying
to take in deep breaths of the clean fresh sea air.
A few minutes later, once I had recuperated, my eyes welled up with tears. I
looked over at Julien, frowning.


"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I don't know why I get
like that sometimes."


He shook his head, quietly shushing me, and wiping away the tears that
were falling down my cheeks. "There's no need to apologize, Amira. You
don’t have to feel the same way… Not yet… But I can’t go on without letting you
I had to laugh, especially at his silliness. Of course I loved him back, how
could I not? "You can't be that dense. You know that I love you… I was
given a second chance at life, and I you’re the reason.”
A wide grin spread across his face, and I knew exactly what that meant…
Two hours, many layers of clothes, and a couple glasses of wine later, I was
panting in bed alongside Julien. The sweat was dripping down my face, but I was
so blissed out that I couldn’t care less. He pulled back out of me slowly,
groaning as he did. His breath was soft across the back of my neck, and he
pulled me closer even still, cuddling against my backside. It was amazing how
quickly we could go from something so wild to something so loving and
beautiful, all in one fell swoop.
Was this what love was like? It was no wonder people wrote songs and movies and
plays all about it.


Lying there next to him, it occurred to me that maybe we should get up
and eat something. Maybe even talk and enjoy the sunset together. Really
though, all I wanted to do was to continue to lie next to him in peace. It just
felt right, my skin up against his. His fingers pulling the curly tendrils of
my dark hair away from my face and kissing me chastely right on the cheek.
Listening to his breathing and heartbeat calming down along with mine…


Julien’s face was ghostly in the dim light of the cabin, but I could
still make out the lines of his eyes. They were fluttering shut, striking me as
maybe the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen…


Yep. I finally understood the word

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