Excerpt (G): Luc Arrives
Miranda heard the pounding of excited feet on the stairs. She checked her hair and dress, and prepared herself not merely to meet the Chevalier du Bon Arnaque, but to dislike him intensely.
She called to Honor and stepped sedately down the long formal staircase to the central hall, where Sybil was taking the coat of a very tall, black-haired man. As she stood on the last step, he turned and glanced up at her. A long pause ensued. Did my heart just stop beating? The house, the hall, Sybil—everything but the man, faded into the background. She examined his face minutely, as though she had all the time in the world. Ringlets of thick, glossy black hair twined over his forehead, the light catching highlights of silver at the temples and deep in his ebony eyes. Tanned skin stretched tight over his high cheekbones, reminding her of the portrait of a Highland chieftain that hung in her study. She could just make out a tiny upturn at the end of his nose that lent a fanciful air to his appearance. Perhaps not a clan chief but an elvish prince?
Slowly she grew aware of Sybil’s chattering. “Monsieur le Chevalier—see how well I pronounced it, monsieur? I’ve been practicing. I promise to be your best student ever! Oh, and this is Miranda, my sister. Honor? Honor! Are you coming down?”
Miranda took the last step into a new world. She faltered before this man who turned her inside out with a single look, and words failed her. As she struggled with an unaccustomed shyness, he held out a friendly hand to her. She mustered up a firm shake from somewhere, noting the hard calluses that lined his palm. A work-hardened hand. Could it be he’s not a leisure-loving gigolo after all?
The chevalier seemed undismayed by the two sisters’ presence. “You are, I presume, Mademoiselle Miranda?” A Gallic accent tinged his words, lending an old-world aroma reminiscent of cognac and espresso to his voice.
She heard a voice that sounded like her own coming from some distance away. “It is Madame. How do you do?”
“I beg your pardon.” He looked helplessly at Sybil. “You did say your sister’s name is also Cabot?”
Behind her came Honor’s voice. “My sister reverted to her maiden name after the loss of her husband, monsieur. I am Honor Cabot. Welcome to our home.” He bowed. Honor indicated the housekeeper. “Dodie will take your luggage up for you.”
Dodie, who had been standing stiffly by the door, came forward. Behind her impassive face the three sisters knew there lay strong opinions, which she intended to share at an appropriate time. Just then, Dieter and Corey came in from the kitchen. The Frenchman started, but caught himself. “I did not know I would have the pleasure of meeting such a beautiful…and…er…large family.” He winked at Sybil.
Honor made the introductions. “Mr. Heiliger and his grandson Corey will also be staying with us.”
Whatever the chevalier thought of this turn of events, he took care not to reveal. As Dodie moved toward the suitcases, he stepped around her hastily. “Oh, no, please, I can carry them myself. If you would be so kind as to show me to my room?” He skirted the small gathering, picked up two suitcases and a large box, and followed Dodie up the stairs.
Dieter stared up at the Frenchman’s back. Without a word he took Corey’s elbow and steered him out the door.
The three women stood in a tight circle. Finally Sybil broke the silence. “He’s...er…he’s rather more handsome than I expected.”
Honor’s laughter rang. “You could say that, dear. So we have even more cause for suspicion, don’t we?”
Sybil flushed. “No one that handsome could be a crook, Honor. It isn’t kosher.”
Her remark brought Miranda back to the present. “What a preposterous thing to say, Sybil. I agree with Honor—men who look like that will undoubtedly use the effect they have on women to wicked purpose. I’ve seen it before.”
Sybil was too young to realize how much her next words would hurt. “You’re talking about Edward. But Edward was scum. We all know that. I never understood how you could let him bamboozle you for so long.”
Miranda bit her lip to keep the words back, but Honor had no such compunction. “Keep your cruel thoughts to yourself, Sybil,” she said sharply. She pursed her lips. “Edward can serve as an example though. Sybil, I want you to take care. This Monsieur du Bon Arnaque could be a criminal. I’m glad Miranda persuaded Dieter to stay with us.”
A step on the stair kept Sybil from retorting.
“The ladies Cabot, may I join you?” Luc Rever, Chevalier du Bon Arnaque, gracefully descended the curving mahogany staircase to the entrance hall, an enigmatic smile playing across his full lips. His long-fingered hand slid effortlessly down the banister and his black eyes twinkled in the sunlight pouring through the open front door. “Dodie has been most helpful, but before settling in I wanted to properly thank you all for receiving me.” In his left hand he held a basket. “I have taken the liberty of bringing you some of the delicacies of my country.” He held it out to Miranda, but Sybil grabbed it and pulled the red and white checked napkin from the top.
“Ooh, ooh. Cheeses and sausages…and wine! Wait, is this a plum tart?”
He gave her a delighted grin and turned to Honor. “I presume she will share. Mademoiselle Honor, it gives me great pleasure to meet Sybil’s elder sister. You are the writer, non?” Honor nodded, clearly taken aback. Apparently he not only knew Sybil had sisters, he knew quite a lot about them. He turned to Miranda. “And you, madame. Sybil tells me you work at the great Smithsonian Institution, but she neglects to tell me in what office. Perhaps you will enlighten me at dinner?”
Miranda nodded along with Honor, feeling like a couple of bobble-head dolls. As the rather uncomfortable silence lengthened, the chevalier turned his gaze to the door. “I look forward, Sybil, to seeing the grounds you have so eloquently described. May we?”
Sybil giggled and took his hand. “Come along then, monsieur.”
The man said, “Please, I beg of you, call me Luc.” He opened his arms wide. “I do hope we may all use our given names? I would hate to stand on ceremony with three such exquisite creatures.”
More idiotic nodding. Sybil led Luc out the back door into the formal flower garden. Honor and Miranda waited until they disappeared, then burst out laughing. They were still laughing when Dodie came in from the kitchen. She waited patiently for their snorts and sniggers to subside. “There will be six for supper then?”
Honor squeezed Miranda’s hand. “Oh, yes,” she panted. “Six.” She ran up the stairs to her tower, her chuckles trailing behind.
Dodie turned to Miranda. “May I enquire as to the cause of your merriment, young lady?” she asked stiffly.
Miranda wiped the tears away and shook her head, not sure if she could maintain her composure. “Do I have to explain, Dodie? You saw him. Even Sybil was speechless.” Ignoring Dodie’s disapproving glare, she too fled to her room.