Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
“Thank you for noticing,” Bishou agreed, “I think so, too.”
“Are you excited about marriage?”
“This is a first marriage for both of you?”
Good thing Denise wasn’t here,
she would be offended by now
. “My first, his second. My fiancé is a widower.”
“How sad for him, how happy for you both.”
Bishou had kept Louis in the corner of her eye, and now saw him raise his hand to motion to her. She excused herself to
Cantrell’s group, turned, and walked to him. For some reason, the gazes of the group she was approaching made her very conscious of her looks — her high-heeled shoes, her jewels, her body, her walk, the blue dress.
Louis reached out to take her hand, and said, “
Monsieur le Prefect
, allow me to introduce my fiancée, Bishou Howard. Ma Bishou, this is the Prefect of Réunion Island, Monsieur Jean-Pierre Masson.” She had not imagined it. The island governor was Louis’s parole officer!
Bishou’s eyes lit up with her smile. She held out her hand. “
Monsieur le Prefect
, it is a great honor to meet you. Thank you so much for all you have done for Louis.”
The Prefect had the perfect little French goatee. Now, at closer quarters, she could also see his French governmental ribbons and badges of office. There was a twinkle in his eye. A slim woman beside him could only be his wife, and proved so upon introduction. She clung to Bishou’s hand, and released it gently.
“Why, Louis, she’s lovely!” said Madame with a smile, then to Bishou, “You are American?”
“Oui, Madame, from Boston, Massachusetts.”
“Boston!” said the Prefect, “I have been there once. Shortly after the museum was robbed. Such a tragedy. Have they found the villains yet?”
“No, Monsieur, not yet, but they are still looking.” That had been ten years ago.
“What do you think of our island?” his wife asked.
“I like it very much. I think I will be happy here,” Bishou replied. “It is very like Virginia, where I studied.”
“That’s right,” said the Prefect sheepishly, “you gave a lecture tonight, which — ahem — I skipped.”
Bishou laughed. “I imagine the opportunity to skip a meeting is a great luxury for you,
Monsieur le Prefect
, so you must enjoy this little vacation.”
“You are a good sport, Mademoiselle,” the Prefect grinned, “or should I say Docteur? Or Professeur?” He seemed like an alert and capable politician.
“All are correct — for a few more days,” Bishou replied. “Then it will no longer be Mademoiselle.”
“So will you be Docteur Dessant, then?” his wife asked.
“There is paperwork to change, for my diploma and my contract, so it may be a while before I can use that name in my work,” Bishou replied, “but that is the name I intend.”
“The contracts for the university system run through government channels,” said the Prefect. “Let me know if you need any help.”
“Ah, Monsieur,” Louis demurred, “as long as the wheels of government are turning, we will not disturb you with our petty problems. I am grateful for the assistance you have already given me. I wouldn’t wish to pester you.” He patted Bishou’s hand.
Other men and women had been standing nearby. Bishou had not focused on them, with her attention on Louis and the Prefect. Now she realized that the man standing beside
Masson had the same comfortable presence as the Prefect himself. Dr. Serge Michelin, the President of this fledgling university system, said, “Jean-Pierre, there shouldn’t be any problem with Dr. Howard’s name change. We’re very excited about having her here.”
Monsieur le President
,” Bishou replied, “you are kind.”
Next to him was the Humanities department chairman, which also hadn’t registered. He wore a wry smile. “Nonetheless, I feel like the man who has had news broken to him by degrees, Professeur. First, I learned that you were not a man. Then, I learned that you were American. Now, I learn that you are to be married. And, I learn you plan to change your name! You have toyed with me.” Dr. Rubin was almost teasing.
“I admit, I did toy with you a bit, Dr. Rubin,” she said, smiling up into his face. “But I knew when we both spoke at the same time, stood at the same time, and shook hands at the same time, that we would get along well. This will be a very enjoyable place to work.” Department heads lived for employees who spoke that way about them, so he was easily appeased.
“You are a brave man, Louis,” said the Prefect seriously. “Many men would be unable to stagger back to their feet to fight again, as you have done.”
Vous êtes très gentil, Monsieur le Prefect
.” Louis shook his head. “I have made a profound number of mistakes in but a few years. I am very fortunate to have the chance to put things right.” Bishou, still holding his elbow, realized that he was very calm and realistic about the past. Their gazes met.
The Prefect saw. “Perhaps a little love matters, too,” he observed. “You’ll come to dinner some night, Louis, and we’ll talk.”
“I would be honored, Monsieur.” Louis turned to escort Bishou in another direction, as the Prefect turned his attention to another conversation.
The head librarian introduced himself, and asked Bishou about getting a copy of her dissertation for their collection. She promised him one. They made small talk with various other people until, at last, Bishou said to Louis, “Are you ready to leave?”
, if you are.”
They paid their respects to the librarian, the host of this event, and departed.
Outside, in the fresh air, Bishou said, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
” said Louis. She turned to him and put her arms around his neck. He wrapped his arms around her body. They kissed in the moonlight. “Non. This part, especially, is very good.”
Gently, Bishou kissed him again. “You look so nice tonight.”
! Regard her, this beauty, telling
I look nice.
“Well.” She kissed him again. “You do.”
. Back to the car.” They walked to the parking area, holding hands. Louis saw her into the car, got into the driver’s seat, and drove out of the area.
He drove past the turn for her street. “Louis, you’ve missed the pension.”
“I am taking you home,” Louis said calmly and determinedly.
She wasn’t ready to fight about his definition of “home.” Instead, she closed her eyes and enjoyed the ride.
“You are not arguing with me,” Louis said.
“I don’t want to argue with you,” Bishou replied.
He reached over and stroked her leg. They were silent all the way to Rue Dessant. Louis was getting impatient, and she was weakening. Bishou didn’t know what she was going to say to him if he tried to take her upstairs, to bed. Probably yes.
Then, they saw a car in the drive — an elderly gray Ford sedan.
Puzzled, Bishou asked, “Whose car is that?”
“I know I’ve seen it before.” Louis searched his memory. “Ah!” he said at last, “I know where I’ve seen it. At Garros.”
“The airport? I don’t understand.”
“We have guests.” Louis pulled up behind the gray car, and turned off the engine. His mood had changed. He hurried around the Mercedes, and opened Bishou’s door. “Come in and say hello to them.”
Bishou accompanied him to the house. She was surprised to see Louis open the door himself, rather than Bettina. Inside, they could hear voices from the kitchen, and laughter. The voices sounded familiar.
Louis led her to the kitchen and opened the door.
Bettina and Madeleine rose from the kitchen table, startled, smiles still on their lips. The man seated opposite them, with two boys eating a late supper, certainly needed no introduction.
“Oh, my Lord,” said Bishou, in English. “Bat, you’re here!”
Her brother stood, grinning. His eyes, as gray as hers, took in the nice clothes. “Wow.” Then he held out his arms. They embraced. “Hello, little sister, we’re here,” said Jean-Baptiste ‘Bat’ Howard.
From the other side of the table, Andre and Gerard came around, too, for their hugs and kisses. Bat shook Louis’s hand, but Louis reached out and hugged a younger boy with either arm. “Andy. Gerry.” He had thought this out in advance, and had the right name for the right boy. “I am glad you could make it here. Welcome.”
“Louis, it’s good to meet you.” Bat switched back to French, out of courtesy for the housekeepers.
“How did you get here?” Bishou asked.
“I told you, Garros.”
“I recognized the rental car from the airport,” Louis explained to her, “and realized the Howards had driven themselves here.”
Bat nodded. “We got directions to Rue Dessant, then got here and found out you were gone. Good thing you’d told the ladies that we’d be staying upstairs, because I didn’t know what the arrangements would be.
, Bishou, you look gorgeous. You didn’t do this for a lecture, did you?”
“Non, non,” said Louis, “we attended another reception afterward. But now,
tout le monde
knows the beautiful woman
at Université Français de l’Océan Indien. And her escort.”
Bat grinned. “That is as it should be.”
“Then come in to the salon with us,” said Louis. “Bettina, some tea for Mademoiselle Bishou and me.”
“Oui, monsieur,” said the housekeeper happily, as Louis led the way out of the kitchen back to his own comfortable sofa. Bat took the easy chair while Louis pulled Bishou onto the couch beside him.
In answer to her questions, Bat replied, “We left Logan and flew to Orly, it seems like days ago. Then Orly to Garros. The boys were thrilled with all the foliage and the jungle animals. They could just wander around your backyard until dawn.”
“But you look sleepy,” she told the boys. “The
is finally getting to you. You need to try to sleep, even though your bodies say it is daytime.”
“I’m not tired,” protested Andy.
“Come,” Bishou said, taking him in her arms. He leaned against her on the couch, while she leaned against Louis.
Bat commented to Louis, “I’ll bet you didn’t plan to take on an entire family.”
“I will take that bet,” said Louis good-naturedly. “They don’t call you ‘les jumeaux’ for nothing. It is the whole family, not just you two.”
“Well, that is true,” Bat admitted. “Any two of us are ‘the twins,’ really.”
“I have figured out that part,” Louis replied, his arm around Bishou’s shoulders.
Andy looked up at him, past Bishou. “What do we call you? You’re even older than Bat. Calling you just ‘Louis’ doesn’t seem right.”
“The Campard boys call me Oncle Louis, and I’m not truly their uncle,” Louis replied seriously. “Would you rather call me that, too, even though it is not quite accurate?”
Andy consulted Gerry, beside him on the couch, with a look, then looked back again at Louis. “Sure. That would be good.”
“Bon. Oncle Louis it is, then.” He drew Bishou closer. “And what do you think of your sister? A beautiful woman,
? Did you ever notice before?”
“Not really.” Andy nestled against her.
“But Bat said we’d see her differently now, because you did,” Gerry contributed.
“Oh, he did,” said Bishou. Bat grinned and said nothing. “Did he tell you I would always love you as much as I do?”
“Yes, he did,” said Andy, eyes closed.
“Good,” she said softly, kissing the top of his head. “I’m glad he realized that part. I will always love you.”
,” said Louis, just as softly. “Now. Did Bettina show you the room upstairs where you boys will stay?”
“Yes. We took our suitcases up.”
“Good. Now, Bat. You take them up and put them to bed, and come back to us.”
“Yes, sir. Come on, boys.”
After they left the room, Bishou said to Louis, “You are handling them just the right way. They need a commander-in-chief.”
“I rather thought so. Besides, I am being selfish.” Louis kissed her. He placed his hand under her breast, and kissed below her throat. In her ear, he said, “I may be acquiring your family, but you are
She sighed, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him. “Oh,
“What do you say?” he prompted with a smile.
She slipped off her shoes and lay on the couch, her head in his lap. His hand rested on her breast and stomach.
“Go to sleep,” he said. “I will get you back to the
, I promise.”
She closed her eyes.
Bettina’s voice. “Is she asleep, monsieur?”
“Not yet,” he replied. “But she had a very strenuous day, between teaching and this reception.” She heard the clink of a teacup and saucer. “Merci. Leave the other here, in case she wakes.” His tone changed. “What?”
“Oh, she is so beautiful, Monsieur. And kind. I am so happy for you.”
“Oui. And kind. Now scat.”
Bettina giggled. “Oui, Monsieur.”
A few minutes later, she heard Bat sit down again in the other chair. “Is she asleep?”
“I’m glad. She’s been overdoing it again.”
“There are so many things she wants,” said Louis.
“Not really,” said Bat. “Only one thing she wanted. And she got him.”
“You flatter me.”
“Non,” Bat insisted. “She wrote me months ago, from Virginia, and said, ‘I have seen him, the only man I want.’”
“And listed all the reasons why there was no hope in hell of it happening.”
Louis’s hand stroked her body. “To think I never noticed her there, caught up as I was in my own problems.”
“When did you decide she was the one?”
“Back here, without her. I argued with Etien. You know, I love the Campard family; they have stood by me through thick and thin. But whenever I mentioned my first wife’s name, they suppressed me firmly. In Virginia, Bishou and the others let me mention Carola, and saw nothing wrong with it. She had been part of my life. I said her name here, thinking no more of it than that, and Etien grew angry. He told me I must not speak of her again. And damn it, no matter how horrible it became toward the end, there was a time that I loved her and she was my wife. I could have grown furious with him — but Bishou was at my shoulder, saying, non, non, he is your best friend, state your reasons for your anger. Work this through. And I did. I told Etien I was
, I had a right to live as one. Bishou was there, saying, work this reasonably. We did. I realized I wanted her here, helping me with my life. I had begun wondering what I could do to bring her here, just my little dreams, when she showed up at the Campards’ doorstep. Even she admits it was as if I summoned her.” He stroked her hair. “Now, we are doing what other people have seen in us, all along.”