Chapter 12: Le Feu

68 8 5

The moment they entered the salon, Lucienne wished to leave again. She would rather bear the gluttonous cake-eating than listen to the prattle of Justine Rouergue.

To distract herself from the way Justine was holding court in the center of the room, Lucie took in the details of the salon. It had been decorated in shades of blue with white furnishings. A large fireplace dominated one wall, with a gilt-framed mirror above the mantle. A huge candelabra hung over the central cluster of white chairs, with two smaller chandeliers flanking it to hang over more seating.

Nearly all the seats were full, but Olivier led her to a quiet corner where a servant stood waiting with a tray full of champagne. He took one and offered it to her before taking one for himself.

The salon had a quieter atmosphere. This meant Lucie could hear every word Justine said.

"If my uncle had not been such a fool, he would still be alive today," Justine was telling a group of rapt young men and women. Lucie narrowed her eyes at the girl's tortured décolleté and the red ribbon tied in a neat little bow around her throat. Both accentuated the bulky diamond necklace Justine wore. Lucie knew that Justine had chosen to sit under the grand chandelier as another means of making the jewels sparkle.

"He could have lived, had he only crossed the border with my father."

Lucie had already been aware of Lord Rouergue's cowardice. This bit of information only added fuel to her rage. Imagine, to call one who did not flee a fool. Certainly Justine's uncle would still be alive, but at least he had died with some sense of honor.

Never mind that Lord Rouergue had condemned Lucie's father to the blade, a memory which had her reaching a hand into her reticule, to assure herself that her piano wire was still there, still available as a weapon, should Lucie choose to stand now and make her way across the room to stand behind Justine. Perhaps glancing at the ornate clock on the mantle that was now chiming the hour of ten.

Had it been an hour already since she had arrived? It seemed both possible and ridiculous. So much had occurred. And yet the night was still young, with many opportunities for Lucie's revenge to come.

"What is it?" Olivier asked.

Lucie turned to look at him, and this is when she realized she was standing there with her hand inside her reticule, gripping the piano wire in such a way that was painful.

"Oh," she said, and sat back down. "I apologize. I fear I am making a terrible first impression."

"It is not a first impression. I have seen you before. I have often seen you walking, lost in thought. It seems to me that this was my first impression of you." Olivier reached out and took her hand again. Through her glove, his skin felt alarmingly warm. "As a girl full of thoughts."

"A girl's thoughts are not worth much," Lucie said with a laugh.

Lifting his chin, Olivier replied, "I would much prefer a girl with thoughts to one without," and those words made Lucie want to kiss him.

"I feel the same," she said, then recovered herself. "About boys, I mean." She thought about that, then added, "Both boys and girls. I look about and I wonder that so many should care so little about anything important."

"And what is important to you, Lucienne Reneault?" Olivier asked.

Would that she could trust a man! She wanted to, and the longer she gazed into his eyes, and the closer she snuggled to the warmth of his body – for she had grown cold, of a sudden – the easier it was to believe that she could.

"My sister is all I have left in this world," she whispered. "And it has fallen to my shoulders to care for her in all ways."

"How old is she?"

"Seventeen. She would have made her debut last year."

"Would have? Why would she not? As you can see from the debauchery around you, the climate has changed. Perhaps she might still—"

"The revolution may have ended, but Annette will never debut."

Olivier stroked her arm, sending shivers up her spine. She had never spoken of Annette to anyone. Alphonsine was Lucie's only confidante.

"She is scarred now. Burned. It happened when they came for Maman." Lucie's voice broke on the last word. Maman. She swallowed and tried to blink away the tears forming in her eyes. How Maman had shrieked and called to them, her voice high and shrill. Hide, you fools! I should prefer not to have your father's fate upon me!

"Maman saw them coming and told us to hide, but Annette clung to her as they stormed into our apartments."

Lucie had run upstairs and made herself into a little ball at the bottom of Maman's wardrobe. Surrounded by the rustling of silks around her, she had heard Maman scream at Annette. Get off of me! Do you not understand? We must hide, or--

"Our servants tried to pull her away, and in the melee a lamp fell over and spilled oil and fire all over her dress."

The crash of the citizen soldiers bursting through the door had cut off Maman's words. Muffled by the gowns and the wardrobe walls, the sounds of other thumps and the sharp breaking of the lamp had still reached her.

She had felt Annette's terror tightening her chest. That was how close they had been, that Lucienne could feel Annette's pain even in another room, out of sight. She felt the burning against her face before she heard the shouts of Put that fire out! She had shoved the skirt of one of Maman's fine gowns into her mouth so that they would not hear her screams, but still she heard the whoosh of the flames and the flapping of the curtains as they were ripped down and used to smother the flames.

"The soldiers stamped out the flames, but not before Annette's beautiful face was destroyed."

Lucie took a deep breath and continued. "I will never forgive myself for not emerging from my hiding place to help her."

"That is a harsh sentence," Olivier said. "What happened was not your fault."

"But it is," Lucie said, standing once more. "It is my fault, and tonight I shall make it right."

"How do you plan to do this?" Olivier asked.

Lucie did not answer him. She only stared at Justine Rouergue, looking as if she had not seen a day of starvation, nor a day of fear, not once in the past five years.

"I plan to have my revenge." 

The Victim's BallRead this story for FREE!