Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
“Whew. Thank you,” she said. “I am happy to see you. You are a welcome diversion.”
“I am glad to serve my purpose. How is the researching?” Louis blew a puff of smoke into the sunny, clear air.
“Very good. I think I am ready.”
“You are always ready.” Another puff. “I wanted to let you know, Nadine has been looking for you.”
“How do you know?”
“She called Bettina and pumped her while we were gone yesterday.” Bettina and Madeleine, his housekeeper and cook, were also his secretaries, door guards, and surrogate mothers, at times.
“Ah, that explains much. She was at my door this morning.”
Louis was surprised. “Bettina did not tell her where you were staying, Bishou. As a matter of fact, she spoke to me because she was afraid Nadine might harass you.”
“Nadine found me, she came, and she behaved herself. She also got two commissions from me, which I understand is unheard of.” She took another two puffs of his cigarette as they leaned against the stone railing of the library steps.
His dark eyes wistful, he asked, “The wedding dress?”
“Oui, she has designed it. I gave her a down payment. I go for a fitting tomorrow afternoon.”
“What can you tell me about it?” he asked, in the same wistful tone.
She suppressed a smile. “Well … it’s white.”
Louis growled, grabbed her, brought her close, and kissed her.
Bishou giggled. “This is not a good example for a professor to set.”
“I am not a professor. They had better get used to it.” He hugged her, and released her. A couple of students, sitting on a bench nearby, were grinning at them. “It is not … it is different, is it not?”
She answered the question he did not ask. “Yes, it is not like Carola’s. I made sure.”
“I am glad,” Louis said softly. “I want this to be distinctly different. Have you seen the photograph? In Savridges’ window?” Louis meant the photo shop on Rue Marché.
“I didn’t really examine it. I saw it in the window.”
“After ten years, it’s still there. I hope … it would be nice if, someday, he trades it out for a photograph of the second
Dessant. But mentioning it would only make things worse.”
“Probably so. If there were only a couple photographs, you and me together, Louis, and maybe the boys with us, if they come, and the Campards … things that will always be happy memories of that day — that is all I would like. Not to faint from photo-fatigue.”
“And a wedding-breakfast afterward, on our lawn? That would be nice. And it would be easy enough for Bettina and Madeleine to arrange.”
“Yes, let’s do that, if they don’t mind.”
“They won’t mind. In fact, they asked me about our plans. They’re looking forward to doing more entertaining than I do. They’ll hire some help.”
“Good. Oh,” she said guiltily. “I may need to borrow some money from you, or Bat.”
?” he exclaimed.
“The wedding dress is going to cost more than I thought. And I haven’t done my hair yet, or even looked at flowers.”
“You little idiot,” Louis said indignantly, “do you think you are paying for all this?”
“I have a job — ”
“You are my wife. Whose pride shall be sacrificed, yours or mine?” Louis demanded.
Faced with that, she replied meekly, “Mine.”
Louis made a very French, very husbandly, noise, and gathered her into his arms. “I should think so. My pride already has a dent in it, from having a wife who works. I console myself with the fact that she is a professor,
, and she is special. But really, Bishou, I have limits.”
“Good.” She smiled, and touched his face. “Good.” She kissed him. Bishou did not want to let Louis pay for everything, as Carola had — before she’d absconded with his bank accounts as well. Bishou had no intention of setting a precedent. She did not want to take advantage of him, but his male vanity had taken a terrible hit when Carola robbed him blind.
After a second kiss, Louis mused, “You know — if you do borrow money from me … I can take it in trade, hein?”
Bishou laughed. “Oui, it’s in the contract.”
“You will come to dinner tonight,
She teased, “Do we need a chaperone?”
Louis grinned. “Only if you have an old Parisian aunt. In Réunion, non. But I do not promise to keep my hands to myself, as they say in Virginia.”
“It sounds worse in French. All right, I have a dress appointment at Nadine’s at three, and then I will come to your place.”
“Shall I pick you up at Nadine’s?”
“Don’t you have a job?”
“Oui,” he admitted sheepishly, “I do. But the boss is amenable to me.”
“Go to work. I’ll finish my appointment, and take the bus out to Rue Dessant.”
“All right. Another kiss,” he demanded. He kissed her, and left.
Bishou smiled and shook her head. Louis had come out here just to warn her about Nadine. He was curious about this new job, and the university. He was curious about the dress, which he shouldn’t see until the wedding. He was acting so damn normal, and enjoying his chance to just wallow in it.
The young couple was still watching her. She grinned at them, too, and got return grins. This university felt comfortable. She would be all right here.
Bishou made her way to the front gate, and waited for the bus. “Bonjour, Papa Armand!” she greeted the driver, climbing on and paying him. “How many children do you have working the bus routes?”
“Five now,” chuckled the Creole, also accepting a cigarette. “Friday is the day, eh, mam’selle? And you are marrying a rich man. You will not need this job, then, after all?”
“I’m going to do it anyway,” Bishou answered, seating herself comfortably in a forward seat. “Good to have the practice, you know — and I will have ‘pocket money,’ a little money of my own that my husband won’t need to provide for me. Fair is fair.”
“You know about Monsieur Dessant’s wife, how she cheated him?” Armand asked.
“Man’s made some mistakes,” Armand said. She recognized a euphemism for prison time.
“Lots of good men do,” Bishou replied.
“Ain’t scaring you,” said Armand.
Bishou made another inspired guess. “
Armand glanced at her, looking a little surprised. Then he chuckled. A while later, he chuckled again, a deep throaty chuckle. Sure enough, Louis Dessant wasn’t the only jailbird on the island who was now working hard to make things right. Louis hadn’t been mistaken when he said the Père issued dispensations in packets. “Where you going today, Mam’selle Bishou?”
“Rue Marché. Nadine’s.”
“And another fancy dress, too.”
“You getting all your clothes from her?”
“Non. There’s another shop I like better. When you look at me, do you see a dainty little Frenchwoman?”
Armand chuckled again. “Non, mam’selle, God made you good.”
. But you see I must wear a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”
“Oui, I see. But you’re
to the island. You let me know what you need, Mam’selle, and I’ll see if I can find you the right help.”
“I’ll remember that, Armand, I promise.”
Bishou walked down Rue Marché from the bus stop, carrying her tote bag and her purse. In the tote bag was her work portfolio, but also her new shoes.
Nadine and the other saleswoman were both waiting for her, this time. Bishou had an uncomfortable flashback of the other married couple, the other day, as they were fawned over while Bishou was ignored.
As Bishou had said, the blue dress fit fairly well. She donned the elegant shoes. Nadine fiddled with a side tuck, and her assistant pinned the hem. “It must be fairly easy for me to get in and out of, alone,” said Bishou, “because I will very likely be changing my clothes in a ladies’ room off the college entrance.”
Nadine sighed. “You may need help with the hooks.”
“I will get help.”
“And those are the shoes you will be wearing, and that is the jewelry.”
“All right, they will go together well enough with the blue dress.”
“And with the white?”
“That too. One problem at a time.”
“It is all one problem,” said Bishou. “I am la deuxième Madame Dessant.” She emphasized “second,” and met Nadine’s gaze steadily.
“I understand,” said Nadine, but her assistant dropped her pincushion in consternation and grabbed it hastily before it rolled under the stool. “Neither you nor Monsieur are made of stone, are you?”
“‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’” Bishou quoted, obligingly translating Shakespeare into French.
fabric,” said Nadine intently — then realized what she had said. They both burst into laughter.
• • •
Bishou was walking up Rue Dessant when she realized that Louis was walking down to meet her. He took the larger parcels out of her hands. “How could you have seen me?”
“I was upstairs.” He rustled a package he carried. “What is this?”
“The dress for Wednesday night.”
“Oh ho. Sexy and revealing, I hope.”
“Well — yes, or it would show badly under the dress.”
“I am encouraged. You do not display your charms.”
“You must show me what you want from me,” she said simply.
He smiled and said nothing. In the house, Bettina welcomed her and set her things on the coat rack with her packages, then returned to the kitchen.
Suddenly, Louis grabbed her, pressed her against the hallway wall, and kissed her savagely. She felt his hands stroking her body. She kept her arms around his neck and returned his kisses, but he was neither calmed nor soothed. His hands pushed and gripped. He kissed her throat, forcing her head back as he kissed and bit. He was out of control. She struggled ineffectively, gasping.
Then he took a deep shuddering breath, and became calm. His grip was still strong, but steady. In her ear, he murmured, “Oh,
, I am going mad with the wait.”
“Louis,” she urged softly, “come.
. We are both going mad.”
Slowly, he released her. She took his hand, led him to his own couch, and sat down with him.
Louis drew her into his arms. He brushed her hair back from her face. He drew her legs over onto his lap, and kissed her again — gently, this time. “I hadn’t meant to — rough you up so much.”
“You startled me more than anything.”
“I did not frighten you?”
“Non,” she lied. “My only thought was, this is not our wedding night.”
Louis smiled and touched her lips with his fingers, recognizing the lie. “I promise not to lose control again.”
“Before the wedding,” she amended.
He acquiesced. “Before the wedding. Afterward, I make no guarantees.”
“I would not ask for more,
“I want to hear you call me ‘
,’ and mean it, in our bed. I want to hear you say it after the loving.” Louis touched her face, and looked in her eyes. “I wanted to give you a tour of the rest of the house tonight, and ask you which room you wanted for our bedroom. Maybe not the same one I have always used, I thought.”
“That might be a good idea. I don’t know.” Bishou gentled her voice to match his tone. His hand was under her skirt, stroking her thigh.
“But now I am afraid that the moment you look at a bedroom you like and say, ‘
’ I won’t be able to restrain myself.”
’? Is that your sex cue?”
“For lovemaking? Ah, oui,” Louis said, with a twinkle in his eye.
Bishou thought of the number of times she had kissed him, and heard him say those very words. He had been telling her yes all along, and she hadn’t realized it. In an odd way, she felt as if she had wronged him.
Bishou shifted their positions on the couch until he lay with his head in her lap. She rested her arms around him and made sure he was comfortable. He stroked her blouse at the breast. The smile never left his lips. He still wore his tie, a white four-in-hand. She loosened the knot and removed it, then unbuttoned his shirt enough to slip her hand inside. She felt warm skin and the movement of his chest as he breathed.
This is my man
, she thought,
Qu’est-ce que tu pensais
“I like touching you.”
His smile grew. “I am glad. It feels good, too. And, tomorrow, you buy the wedding dress.”
“Are you excited?”
Her smile matched his. “Yes, very. More about the man than the dress.”
“Oh, what of the man?” he teased.
“A luscious, sexy tobacco-man.”
Louis laughed. “Now you make fun of me.”
Bettina appeared long enough to say that dinner was served. They made their way to the dining room. While they ate, Bishou worried about where her brothers would stay. Louis said pfah, let them stay here, plenty of room on the top floor. She wondered if Denise and Etien would be their witnesses; Louis said he would ask tomorrow, but he assumed so. She told Louis who she planned to ask about her hair; he told her where to buy a bouquet. They probably conducted more bridal business at that supper table than either had accomplished the rest of the week.
They climbed the stairs. Louis showed her the upstairs bathroom, with its spacious tub — “room for two,” he murmured in her ear, and his bedroom on that floor.
“Whew,” she said, staring at the white French Provincial furniture, “like something out of a mail-order catalog, isn’t it?”
“I think my grandparents brought the suite with them from France.” He opened the window to the balcony. “Not much of a view, either. What you see from here is the driveway.”
“Where were you looking for me, today?”
“Upstairs.” He led the way to the top floor. Here were two bedrooms — one a modest double-bedded guest room, and one containing a generous bed with a colorful print cover in a room with African touches. He opened the window on this room, and stepped onto the balcony with her. “You see, a much better view.”
Bishou turned back to look inside. “I like this room, Louis. It’s comfortable.”