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La Belle Christiane
by Lyn Cote
2011 copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Fourteen, Scene 4
The door opened. “Pardon me,” a cool voice spoke lazily. “The Virginia Reel is about to begin and, Christiane, you promised it to me.”
Weston released her. Christiane turned to view Eastham, lounging casually in the doorway. “Of course, Major,” she managed to gasp. She walked unsteadily over to him and took his arm.
“Later,” Eastham said to the other officer. The Lt. Colonel nodded curtly and they left. As they strolled down the hall, Christiane gripped the major’s arm with unusual force as she tried to gain control of her breathing.
“Don’t try that again,” he whispered in her ear. “You are not viewed as one of the blushing virgins here. You are considered fair game.”
At a darkened alcove in the turn of the hall, she tugged at his arm. She couldn’t stop shaking and feared she might burst into tears.
He paused a moment to let her re-gain her composure. “Are you all right?” he whispered. A few moments passed. Finally she nodded, unwilling to admit how shaken she was. Cold fear still coursed through her, but she forced herself to go on.
They re-entered the ballroom and joined the others in the parallel lines of the reel. The sheen had been taken off Christiane’s lightheartedness, but the rollicking tune began to restore her. She began to breathe normally again. The American folk dance, like folk dances everywhere, had more bounce and lilt than the formal steps. She found herself smiling at the major as they exchanged bows and swings. He gave her a surprise smile in return. This made her chuckle because it was perhaps the first honest smile she had ever seen on him.
At the end of the reel she applauded genuinely, but before she could speak to him, her flock of admirers re-gathered and separated them. They returned to their former venue of passing each other nonchalantly on the floor as well bred lovers would.
Hours passed and finally she was completely exhausted. It must be near two in the morning, she thought, scanning the assemblage. Surely the major had had his money’s worth and could take her home now. But she could not see him. It occurred to her that she had not seen him during the last two dances. She turned to Lord Hazelton, who had come to stand near her. “Have you seen Major Eastham?”
“Oh, the major?” he returned evasively.
“Yes, the major.”
“He will be back soon,” a younger officer at her elbow supplied helpfully.
The older man frowned at him.
“Oh, doesn’t she know?” the younger burbled.
“What should I know?” she asked, suddenly alert.
The younger officer studiously ignored her and examined the floor ahead of him.
“You should not bother your head with such details, my dear. It is just a small matter of honor. No one will be hurt seriously, I’m sure,” Hazelton explained.
A matter of honor? This could mean only one thing, a duel. “Who is with the major?” she asked numbly.
“Weston.” The man who had tried to seduce her in the private room. That is what the major had meant by “Later”.
“Where are they?” she asked.
“You shouldn’t get involved, Christiane,” he advised. “The duel has already begun. I’m sure it is over or will be over soon.”
“But it is so unnecessary. Nothing happened.”
“Only because Eastham intervened,” Hazelton replied with a touch of irritation. “Weston needs to be taught a lesson in manners. He behaved most unbecomingly.”
“I don’t want anyone to be hurt.”
“I will go and see if I can find them,” he offered. “You must wait here though. It would be most unseemly for you to be a witness.”
She nodded and squeezed his hand. To discourage any further suitors, she wandered by the windows hiding behind the extravagant draperies. In the lamplight outside she glimpsed Lord Hazelton, walking across the yard toward the inn’s large stable. The stable, of course, the perfect place for a duel on a cold, winter night. It would be well lit, reasonably warm, roomy enough and secluded.
Without thinking, she was at the side door, sending a footman to fetch her cape. Then leaving the sounds of the stately music and laughter behind, silently on her thin dancing slippers she slipped and slid across the frozen ground. As she neared the stable, she could hear the unmistakable sound of metal rhythmically striking metal. She recalled Lord Hazelton’s advice. If she burst in now, the major would most certainly be deeply embarrassed or, worse yet, wounded by the distraction. Scanning the outside of the stable, she saw a small window at the far end. She hurried over to it, hoping there would be enough light to see by.
There was. The two officers, stripped to their ruffled shirts, parried back and forth. Eastham was calm and deliberate as was the other man. Each thrust was deflected excellently as they moved back and forth, neither giving ground. She knew instinctively that neither one intended to do serious harm to the other. This was merely a formal duel, a ritual that gentlemen observed, but there was always the danger that the two might get so involved in the heat of the action that an accident could happen.
She gritted her teeth with worry. The metallic rhythm continued. Then when she least expected it, Weston quickened the pace of his attack. The major matched it. A staccato of light clashes rang out. Then a bright red crease on the inside of the Lt. Colonel’s arm silenced the blades. Blood had been drawn. Satisfaction had been paid. She gasped in relief. The major had not been wounded, either in body or in honor. Now she must manage to get away without being seen. She spun around and fled over the snow patches and ruts.
Deciding that the participants might see her enter the well-lighted front entrance, she sought out the side door again and entered quietly. The ending of a dance camouflaged her entry. As casually as possible she made her way to the front hall. She intended to wait there for Eastham and demand to go home. There she stood, tapping her foot and hugging her cape around her.
“Well, madame, I find you at last,” his voice came from behind. Evidently the duelists had also used an alternate entrance.
“Major,” she said imperiously. “I wish to go home now.”
“Oh?” His tone matched hers. “But I came to claim one more dance.” Without giving her a chance to reply, he whisked off her wrap and tossed it to a nearby servant.
Taking her arm firmly, he drew her back to the ballroom. He walked purposefully over to the small group of musicians and conferred with the head violinist, who nodded profusely. The melody they were playing ended abruptly and then began the strains of a Viennese waltz. Christiane gasped. The waltz was–even in France–considered shocking.
Christiane’s mother and grandmother had argued over whether it would be accepted in Christiane’s time or not. Finally over her grandmother’s objections, Christiane had been tutored in it. But this was not the court of Louis XV. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Leading my partner to the floor.”
“But, but…,” she stuttered.
“But me no buts, madame. Do you know the waltz or no?”
She was stung by his tone. “Of course, I do.”
“Then let us begin. This will be our grand finale.” He whirled her into his arms and then they were gliding to the music.
As she had feared, the floor was empty except for them. Probably no respectable woman in Philadelphia could waltz. She almost pulled away, but then it came to her. Whose reputation was she trying to protect? Christiane Kruger would never have to pay for Christiane Belmond’s indiscretions. Philadelphia be damned. Tomorrow she would slip away as humble Christiane Kruger, but tonight…. A smile illuminated her face and she answered the major’s every lead gracefully.
On his brow, she could see the light perspiration he had worked up during the duel and she liked the light smell of brandy that lingered on him. The muscles of his shoulders moved rhythmically as she rested her arm on them and his hand at the small of her back guided her firmly. She had the sensation of floating as they moved together and her heart beat a bit faster with the excitement of their display. They whirled on the empty floor in solitary grandeur, giving an artistic performance for the gawking, scandalized audience that encircled them.
The melody was almost over when one couple finally joined them, the general and Mrs. Loring. Christiane chuckled inwardly. The “Sultana” evidently had heard that they were waltzing and was not about to be outdone. The two couples spun artfully around each other. The song ended. The major bent over Christiane’s hand, formally thanking her for the pleasure.
Without further conversation, they left the floor and claimed their wraps. Then she allowed the major to escort her out to their carriage in the brittle night air. As usual, they rode in silence. Back at the officers’ quarters, a generous fire awaited them in their room. The major lit a few candles and set them on the ivory white mantel.
Still holding her fur cape close about her neck, Christiane perched in her wing-backed chair, allowing the fire to thaw her, bit by bit, the chill that had overpowered her in the carriage. He brought her a warming brandy and sat down across from her. The contrast of the noisesome ball and this quiet haven made them mute. They sat companionably, sipping the clear, amber liquid and watching the crackling flames and their flickering shadows. As she sipped, she felt herself relax, lower her guard.
“Your performance was gifted,” he said finally.
She turned her face to him. Her eyes swept over him. In that faraway fort those years before he had made an unforgettable impression on her. After living with him these past weeks, she knew more clearly why. Though maddening at times, he was an exceptional man: honest, intelligent, and arresting. She allowed herself to gaze at him lingeringly, to admire his lithe figure as he lounged in his chair. Finishing his brandy, he rose and went behind the dressing screen.
With this their nightly routine began. She savored the final sips of her brandy, which left her feeling drowsy. She waited till she heard him scrape back the bed curtains and climb into his bed. She rose then and took her turn behind the screen. Languidly she slipped her arms from the sleeves of her gown. She reached up to undo the pearls. The clasp argued with her and would not come loose. She felt too dreamy, too sleepy to unclasp it. Holding up the front of her gown, she stepped out from behind the curtain and went over to the major’s bed.
Sliding open the curtain and sitting down on the edge, she said, “Major, would you undo the pearls. I can’t.”
He sat up leisurely and looked at the lovely, velvety back just inches in front of him. The night of dancing and dueling had left him tired, yet restless. Soon this episode would end. This beautiful girl would leave and his life could return to normal.
Tentatively he reached up to unhook the protesting clasp. Unexpectedly his hand brushed her shoulder. A tingling raced up his arm. He fumbled with the clasp and then got up on his knees for a better perspective. Finally the clasp separated and he held the pearls forward in front of her throat for her to take; she did not reach up for them. And in those seconds he was snared by the last of her perfume, and more so, her own natural fragrance. The creamy skin of her nape glowed in the firelight, tempting him.
Half-remembered sensations swept through him and without intending to, he leaned down and pressed a kiss there, one and then slowly another, another. How long had it been since he had touched anyone so wondrously soft?
Of course, he had never consciously thought of making love with her. He had guarded himself against thinking about her, but now as his lips touched her smooth shoulder, he felt lightning flash through him. And wonder of wonders, he felt his body, preparing to love her. A pleading well up inside him. His lips sought her skin.
Christiane felt his lips. She knew she should rise and walk away, but the feelings his touch released caught her in their web. It had been almost a year since a man had touched her like this. The kisses, so soft yet so insistent, ignited an inner fire. Just a few more, then she would withdraw. But her inner flame grew and her resolve melted. The pearls slid over her and dropped to the floor.
She opened her mouth to say, “Stop,” but all that came forth was a mixture of a sigh and a moan….
Well, Christiane has been playing with fire and it looks like she’s about to get burned. Since she was thirteen, she has been on a quest to find meaning in life, to live a different life than her mother’s. Tonight she planned to spend only one evening like her mother and only till the end of the ball. At only nineteen, I don’t think she saw this coming at all. Did you?
I am almost afraid of posting this scene because one of the strongest taboos in Christian romance seems to be that a heroine can’t sin sexually. But I wrote this long before I was aware of this. In fact, I wrote it before the Christian market had developed at all. So what do you think? Should I continue Christiane’s story or has she done the unforgivable? Will you stick with her?