Her heart hammering against the cage of her corset, Lucienne placed the stiletto back into its hiding place, then stepped out into the brightness of the hallway.
A young man stood there, gazing at one of the paintings on the wall.
The killer! she thought when she spied the blood on the front of his jacket. She very nearly pulled the stiletto back out, but then remembered where she was. Half the guests tonight had covered themselves in blood, be it paint or from a butcher shop. Lucie licked her lips and tried to regain her composure.
"Good evening," she said to the young man.
When he turned to look at her, she realized it was Olivier Legrand. "Hello, mademoiselle," he said, with the jerky nod that was the salutation of the evening.
She found herself grimacing.
"My lady, I apologize. Your face, you appear as though you have seen a ghost!"
Lucie forced herself to smile. "It is I who should apologize, monsieur. The victimes greeting, it brings to mind terrible memories, non?"
Olivier looked as though he would like to laugh. At her? She swallowed down the rage.
"This entire ball brings to mind terrible things. I feel, perhaps, as though I need to go to confession simply for attending."
In relief, Lucie unleashed a true smile. "Moi aussi! Oh, I am so thankful that at least one person feels this way. All whom I have met thus far have been..." She struggled for a word that meant ghastly, arrogant, and self-absorbed, without sounding cruel.
"Self-indulgent twats?" Olivier suggested, and now Lucie laughed out loud before remembering herself and covering her mouth with her hand. "Apologies for the crudeness, my lady."
Olivier stepped closer, and now Lucie could see more clearly what she had noticed from afar. He was indeed attractive, with a strong nose and square jaw, though it was his lips she found herself looking at. They were full and begged to be kissed. She cast her eyes down, to keep herself from impure thoughts.
"I believe I have seen you before," Olivier said. "You often visit the Bourreau residence. Are you a friend of Alphonsine?"
"Hardly," she said before she could stop herself. She covered her mouth again. "Pardon, how rude of me. I..." She looked up and found herself caught in Olivier's brown eyes, which twinkled in the lamplight. He was smiling at her discomfort. "I only meant that I am a companion for Alphonsine." She lowered her eyes again, this time as a flush of shame crept up her neck. "After my parents... I had to provide for my sister."
She expected Olivier to scoff, or to make some excuse to leave. She had insulted his neighbor and exposed herself as poor.
Instead, she felt Olivier's fingers wrap around her own.
"Please do not look so sad, mademoiselle," Olivier said. "It was a crushing blow to lose my uncle to the guillotine, I cannot imagine if it had been my mother. Or are you full of sorrow because you must spend time with Alphonsine? She is quite dull, is she not?"
Lucie blinked back the tears and looked up. "Oh, she is not so terrible." She smiled.
"Not so terrible? I hear her practicing on that harpsichord. I welcome the colder weather simply because it means I might shut the windows to keep from hearing it. The only sound worse is when she sings."
Now Lucienne was laughing again.
"You have a beautiful smile," Olivier said, hand still holding hers. "Please, do tell me your name."
"Lucienne—" She stopped herself short. What did Olivier know about her family name? She took a breath and said, "I prefer to be called Lucie."
"That is a lovely name, for a lovely girl." Olivier lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it.
"I will admit, I already know your name," Lucie said.
"Do you, now? I suppose Alphonsine is smitten with me and speaks of me constantly." Drawing himself up taller, he took a pose like that of a man having his portrait done.
"But of course, aren't all the girls smitten with you?"
Olivier laughed at that. "Yes, yes, you are correct. All of the young ladies of Paris are clamoring for me to be their dance partner. Alas, I must hide from the masses. None of them are beautiful enough for my high standards. None but you, of course."
"Is it so terrible to have a full dance card?" Lucie asked.
"It is when one has no sense of rhythm and has caused three dance tutors to abandon their positions in frustration."
Lucie's laugh echoed in the hallway. She covered her mouth again. "Surely you cannot be this terrible at dancing."
"It is true."
"I believe I should be the judge of that," Lucie said, surprising herself with her own boldness. She had been away from polite society for too long. Laughing too loud, being too familiar... her mother would have been ashamed of her.
Olivier did not seem to care if Lucie had made some societal faux-pas or not.
"You are right, mademoiselle, of course." And he held out his hand with a little bow, and Lucienne took it, and he escorted her down the grand staircase and back into the ballroom.
Only when Lucie was again confronted with a sea of blood-spattered ghouls did she realize how quickly she had gone from being about to murder someone, to discovering a dead body, to flirtation.
With a sinking feeling, she wondered if she herself was not so different from those around her.
YOU ARE READING
The Victim's BallHistorical Fiction
HER REIGN OF TERROR HAS JUST BEGUN... When Lucienne Reneault receives an invitation to a Victim's Ball in honor of those aristocrats who have been guillotined, she believes it must have been a mistake. Of two things she is certain, however: she wil...