Stuffing my mouth full of fries, I hoped to disgust him as much as he’d disgusted me that fateful night. I refused to let him know how wonderful the meal was. Why couldn’t he just drop off the food and leave, letting a girl eat in peace?
I tried spaghetti hoops, said Claire, lying back on the grass.All right. All right. Why would you put something in your mouth that is only all right?
Claire giggled. They were having a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It felt almost magical to Claire that only weeks before she had been looking at the young lovers, so smug and contented with their wicker baskets, their casually discarded bicycles, and empty wine bottles. They made it look so simple; she had been so envious.And now, here she was too, lying half on a rug, half on the grass under a blazing blue sky. M. and Mme. LeGuarde had taken the children to Provence for a week. Originally Claire had been supposed to go with them. When Mme. LeGuarde had said she wouldn’t be necessary, Claire had immediately panicked and worried she’d done something wrong. Being sent back to the Reverend in disgrace would be more than she could bear.Mme. LeGuarde laughed at her worried face. In fact, she wanted Claire to give her love life more of a chance without them around, have a little adventure of her own. It hadn’t passed her notice that Claire had come more out of her shell; she was loving and carefree with the children, more willing to speak up. She had roses in her cheeks and a light golden tan from hours walking outside and playing with Arnaud and Claudette in parks; her appetite was good, her eyes were sparkling, her French coming on in leaps and bounds. She was already a long way from the worryingly pale, hopelessly introverted schoolgirl who had arrived on their doorstep two months before. Now, Mme. LeGuarde thought, Claire should have a holiday too.
As a thank-you, she murmured, brushing off Claire’s stammering that they had already done so, so much for her.She took her to her own atelier, situated just off the Marais. It was a tiny shop front, with a sole sewing machine in the window and no signage. A woman in an immaculate black knit dress cut starkly to the knee with a starched white collar and perfect cheekbones appeared in front of them.
Marie-France, said Mme. LeGuarde. The ladies kissed, but with no noticeable warmth. Then she turned her pale blue eyes to Claire, who felt herself quailing under the weight of such scrutiny.
Her legs are short, she barked.Tonight, he repeated, as if testing the word in a new voice—a calmer one.
He released my hands and worked down my dress tediously, popping the buttons open one by one, torturing me with the deliberately slow pace of his fingers. I reached down to help, but he grabbed both my hands in one of his and, after placing a quick kiss to my thumb, returned them to their position above my head. My actions only deepened my need for him, as he slowed with now only one hand to undo the exasperating buttons.After the final button, he looked up at me with a trace of the smirk I rarely saw anymore and released my hands. I remained still, anxious for his next move, but he didn’t keep me waiting for long. His fingers drifted down between my breasts and he lifted one side of my dress slowly, revealing the shameless corset, eager to finally greet him.
You’re gorgeous, sweetheart. His hand moved slowly, undoing the ribbon just enough to reveal my breasts. You don’t need this.His delicate touch unraveled the seal over my heart as his fingers worked with tantalizing finesse, as though I were made of glass. When he finally looked up at me, his eyes were filled with a concentrated emotion I failed to decipher. A shiver raced up my spine and wrapped a chill around my neck. It was something much deeper than lust, and it frightened me.