Chapter 17: La Sang de la Coeur

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She only needed to wait until Nicholas might have received her note. But without knowing where he was, how was she to know when that would be? She might allow an hour, two hours, but certainly he would not read the note, arrive in the room upstairs, and then wait that long.

She should have gone upstairs the moment she had sent that note off to be delivered. She could hide in the room, lay in wait. However long it might be.

Desiring to avoid running headlong into the macabre dancers, who seemed to running in circles about the hotel, Lucie headed into the salon. She was certain that Olivier would be here, since she had not seen him in the ballroom.

If only she had kept her head down, instead of looking for him. Her pathetic searching drew the attention of one member of the room.

"Lucienne de Reneault, is that you?"

Lucie could not hide the grimace on her face as she turned to face Justine Rouergue, who had not risen from her throne at the center of the couch, where she was flanked by two girls not quite as pretty as Justine. Indeed, they seemed to have been chosen to frame their leader and make her appear more attractive.

With her wide, high forehead, her perfectly arched eyebrows over large blue eyes, and her nose straight with a little turn at the end, Justine embodied the ideal of beauty. Her hair was that rare shade of strawberry blonde that was not quite red – one dyed red hair if one had it – and lent her face a rosy glow that other blondes compensated for with rouge. Her expression, as Lucie glared upon it, was blandly superior.

"Oh, honey, you're bleeding. Or is that part of your..." Justine waved her hand, "...costume? Gaston, do be a gentleman and lend her your handkerchief."

Lucie looked down. Blood had soaked through the center top of her dress, just a few droplets, but obvious enough given that she had not splattered herself with red paint.

"Clearly it is part of her costume. Look, she has it on her little knife as well. She was probably running around with Bastien," Gaston said. "Besides, you know how blood stains."

Justine gave him a look, and Gaston withdrew a handkerchief from his sleeve and held it out.

Lucie ignored it.

"Do not worry, Lucienne. Gaston won't mind if your peasant hands touch his precious handkerchief. Gaston believes in equality, don't you, Gaston?"

For a moment, Lucie did not understand what had just happened, not until Gaston hissed, "You bitch."

"Ha! I am only kidding, Gaston. Seriously, Lucienne. We do not mind that you have crashed our party. After all, you were a noble once. Albeit by means of deception rather than birth."

White hot rage surged through her body. "I will kill you," Lucie said, her voice a strained whisper, for every muscle in her body had clenched, coiled, prepared to leap across any who blocked her path.

Justine laughed, prompting her two bookends to laugh along with her. "What was that? Honestly, Lucienne, do you not recall how to speak clearly when in social company?"

Sucking in a deep breath, Lucie prepared to announce to the entire room her intentions, but as she opened her mouth, she was shoved from behind. She fell forward, catching herself from crashing face-first into an ottoman with her stiletto.

"I am so dearly sorry, mademoiselle."

Lucie straightened up, gritting her teeth and turning to face Olivier. "You did that on purpose," she said.

"I must make this up to you," Olivier continued, as if Lucie had not spoken. He turned to Justine. "I do hope you will excuse my escorting this lovely lady off to dance. It is the least I can do to account for my clumsiness."

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