May 3, 1688
“Desiree! Stop that fidgeting and stand still!”
Desiree Chandelle snapped to attention with exaggerated obedience. She glared into the looking glass, challenging her nurse’s scowling reflection.
“And stop that frowning! You'll age before your time!”
“Ohhh…” Desiree growled, as she searched her vocabulary for a suitable retort. She clenched her fists in tight balls at her sides and sputtered, “Ohhh…Pooh!”
“Pooh indeed!" Her nurse nodded curtly. “Eighteen years old and I swear you have the patience of a sparrow. Always flitting about, first here, then there,” she said in a sing-song voice, while gesturing with a waving hand. “One month!” she announced, slicing the air with an index finger. “One month you've been home from Paris and the well-mannered young woman you appeared to have become…poof! Gone, over night!”
“What are you referring to, dear Bridgett? Enlighten me,” Desiree demanded.
She crossed her arms over her chest and lifted a curious brow at her nurse's reflection.
“Cast your eyes there,” Bridgett snapped, pointing sharply to a dusty-rose colored riding habit which lay draped over an open armoire door. The delicate hue was splattered and smeared with dry mud. Water spots streaked the last few yards of fabric untouched by the muck. A tear stretched along the hem, leaving a good arms length of muslin dangling limply to the polished oak floor.
“You left yesterday for a pleasant ride with Antoine Fabre' and returned in a wild fiasco! Soaking wet! Dirty! Your lovely gown ruined, totally ruined!” With an exaggerated shake of her head, Bridgett closed her eyes as if to block the memory.
Desiree wrinkled her nose at the garment, shrugging her shoulders, indifferent to the fact. Then her eyes flashed with fire as she recalled what had set the chain of events into motion.
“Not I, but Antoine turned our outing to a shambles, Bridgett!” she gasped as her nurse rolled her eyes upward with a wry smile and a shake of her head, “Why Bridgett! You don’t believe me?”
Bridgett combed through a lock of Desiree’s silky black hair, coiling the curl about her finger while seeming to ponder the question.
“Well! You show great faith in me!” Desiree snapped. “As I told you, we were riding near the creek when I urged our horse to attempt an easy jump over the water and Antoine, fool that he is, simply…fell off!” She shrugged innocently before going on. “It was my misfortune to have consented to ride double with the cad, for he pulled me off the horse with him! He is lacking in proper disposition for a young gentleman, if you ask me.”
Dismissing the subject with that, Desiree glared out the bedroom window through the lavender sheers covering the window, and to the large walnut tree beyond. Concentrating on the swaying boughs, she tried to ignore the amused chuckles behind her and waited until Bridgett's laughter subsided before daring a look, then bristled, finding herself the subject of a wise and knowing stare. Oh, how Bridgett enjoys watching me squirm!, she fumed silently.
“My sweet,” Bridgett laughed, hugging Desiree from behind and placing a light kiss upon her unwilling charge's cheek, “for as long as I can recall, since the time you were old enough to walk, you have been stumbling from one calamity to another. Antoine and the other boys have bore the blame gallantly, but don't you think,” she paused, smiling adoringly at Desiree's injured expression, “you would be missing from at least one of these occurrences? Am I to believe they are so clumsy? Dim-witted?” When Desiree refused to answer, she continued thoughtfully. “Strange how they seem to maneuver around water, mud holes, come in out of the rain, avoid all sorts of obstacles in their lives when they are alone. If they are truly as accident prone as you would have me believe, it is a miracle they have survived this far!”
“Very amusing, Bridgett.” Desiree drawled without malice, but held an expression of irritation carefully in place.
“It seems,” Bridgett laughed softly, “they do quite well for themselves unless you are somewhere close by, more often, in the middle of the fray!”
Bridgett leaned her face close to Desiree's cheek, shifting her stance from left foot to right, swaying Desiree side to side, while staring into the pouting visage reflected before her until Desiree's expression began to soften and then brighten. “You have a great gift, child,” she continued, speaking quietly. “Though I've never approved of the comradery you share, you have a power over men like nothing else I have witnessed in all my life. It goes beyond your beauty—to your very soul. Men adore you. Would deny you nothing you asked of them, nor would they do or say anything which might bring you unhappiness or pain.”
Excerpted from "Love's Vengeance" by Dana Roquet. Copyright © 0 by Dana Roquet. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.