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The Mysticke Krewe of Theseus: Midnight Blue

Novel By: Priscilla Darcy
Romance



Tinsley Stewart has abruptly decided that she can't get married. Although it would have been better to make the decision earlier than an hour or so before her wedding. Fleeing a life she's decided she doesn't want, Tinsley goes in search of a better one, and, as a restaurant critic, lands in the mecca of food-writing: New Orleans.

Tucker Trenier, stumbling home to New Orleans after a long absence, is startled to find a woman living in his house. And even more startled when the air between them is immediately electric. And a bit more startled to discover that she possesses a ring that matches the one-of-a-kind family heirloom that he wears.

As Tinsley and Tucker, in the midst of Carnival season, try to figure each other out, they have no idea that, a century earlier, the original owners of their matching rings played out a tragedy that Tinsley and Tucker are fated to fix.

The first of a planned trilogy, this split-setting novel is completely self-contained. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Submitted:May 28, 2007    Reads: 221    Comments: 0    Likes: 1   


Jean-Marc Trenier, ignoring the stir he was creating, walked into the Harvard Club and paused in front of Perkins' table. The man looked up at him, pretending to be politely curious. Trenier sighed and told himself to keep his temper. But the man was absolutely ridiculous. He was dressed as foppishly as always, brilliantly. And Trenier, who had not slept at all since watching Clara slip safely into her house, was more than usually annoyed by this.

����������� "We have business," he told Perkins, shortly.

����������� Perkins smiled at his associates and shrugged, as if to say, What can you do with crazy Frenchmen?

����������� "Now," Trenier said, turning on his heel and walking to a secluded corner of the club.

����������� Perkins followed behind, coming deliberately slowly, pausing to talk to everyone. Trenier watched him in idle irritation, lighting a cheroot. He had not liked Perkins before falling in love with Clara. It was very easy to think of killing the man now. This man who had placed his hands on Clara. At least Trenier took comfort in the fact that he had apparently never kissed Clara properly. There had been no mistaking the wonder in Clara's response the night before.

����������� "I thought you weren't received at the Harvard Club," said Perkins, politely, his eyes cold as steel.

����������� "The best shot in the parish," said Trenier, lazily, "is received mostly everywhere he chooses to go." He knocked some ash into the ashtray. "I meant what I said about the money. You are far overdue, Perkins. Is it possible to get a drink in this place?"

����������� Perkins smiled, tightly. "I don't believe they serve your kind here. Not even the best shot in the parish. I have explained to you my financial circumstances."

����������� "Someone seems to have given you the impression that I am a reasonable man." Trenier puffed on his cheroot, blowing a perfect smoke circle toward Perkins. "I can't imagine who that was. I've been indulgent with the terms of the loan, it is true. But I have pressing need of the money for the spring plantings. And it is my money, after all."

����������� "You have plenty of money for the spring plantings," Perkins told him.

����������� "You look at my books now?"

����������� "What is this about?"

����������� That was more perception than Trenier would have expected. Trenier smiled without warmth. "I have it in my head to go courting. An expensive proposition, you see."

����������� "Courting? You need the money for courting?" Perkins looked endlessly amused. "Who are you going to court?"

����������� Wouldn't you like to know? thought Trenier. "Men as badly in debt as you are, Perkins," drawled Trenier, unconcerned, "should be far more careful who you make jest of. You do have a lot of pretty friends here. Perhaps I should ask some of them if they would care to help you pay me back?"

����������� Perkins's wide, blank smile faltered a bit. "Look," he said, swiftly, lowering his voice. "I am to be married soon. Surely you have heard. Once I get her dowry, I'll pay you immediately. I'll let you hold the deed to the plantation until I am married, and if I do not pay you back immediately, you may foreclose-"

����������� Trenier forced his voice to be even. "I don't want another plantation. I have my own plantation." Trenier pulled out his pocket watch, looked at it. "It is nearly eleven o'clock. I will be back at the stroke of noon. I will need half of the money. Otherwise, I will consider myself severely dishonored. Insulted. I do believe I shall have to call you out." Perkins had gone satisfyingly white. There were advantages, Trenier thought, to being the best shot in the parish. Trenier stubbed out his cheroot. "I'll have my valet polish my pistols. Please call your second."

����������� Perkins blinked.

����������� "Twelve o'clock," Trenier said, with a bland smile, and a formal bow.

There was pounding. Creatures-horrid little creatures-gnomes and goblins and ogres-were pounding at his head with wooden mallets. Tucker winced, pulling the blanket up over his head. It was bright. The sunlight was streaming through his eyelids, making the pain in his head, the gleeful, malicious creatures, even more acute.

����������� There were voices now, an exchange of words somewhere in the distance. Tucker ignored it. He needed a few more hours of sleep, he thought. He needed it desperately.

����������� The blanket was yanked away from him, all the way off the couch. Tucker opened his eyes carefully, squinting against the light. There was a goddess, afloat in a cloud of golden hair and sky blue silk, standing before him. Damn. Now if only he felt capable of making a move on a goddess. Time to go back to sleep.

����������� Tucker closed his eyes again.

����������� "What do you think you're doing?" demanded a female voice.

����������� Surely not the goddess. Goddesses did not speak in such strident tones. Tucker opened one eye in confusion. "Did you just speak to me?"

����������� "Yes. What do you think you're doing? Why are you on this couch?"

����������� "Couch?" Tucker repeated, and decided it wasn't worth the effort of translating the words. He closed his eye. "Can't you go away?"

����������� She didn't answer. Thank God, she left. Who was that? he wondered, vaguely. She had seemed familiar to him. There was much to think about, he thought. A little more sleep and then he would-

����������� Water gushed over him. Shockingly ice cold water. Tucker sat up immediately, gasping.

����������� The blonde-haired goddess put the pitcher down and crossed her arms. "Why are you on this couch?" she asked him.

����������� "Are you out of your damn mind?" he demanded in disbelief. "That was freezing."

����������� "I needed to wake you up. Your luggage is here."

����������� "What luggage?"

����������� She gestured.

����������� He turned on the soaking wet couch, regarded his luggage. "Oh," he recalled. "My luggage. Yes. I lost it. I mean, the airline lost it." He turned back to her, the fragments of the night before coming back to him slowly. He had kissed this woman at the bar. A perfect, sensational kiss. And then he'd taken her home? And woken on the couch? None of this seemed right.

����������� No, then he'd come home to find her in his bed.

����������� Because she was his tenant.

����������� "Do I need to get more water?" she asked.

����������� He held up a hand. "No. God, no. I'm awake. I'm just..."

����������� "Hungover."

����������� "I don't get hungover," said Tucker.

����������� "You're hungover. You were drunk. And you're sleeping on my couch."

����������� "It isn't your couch. It's my couch."

����������� "Why didn't you sleep upstairs?"

����������� "I liked the couch better," he lied.

����������� "It was cold upstairs, wasn't it?" She looked at him knowingly.

����������� "I'll tell you what was cold," he retorted. "That water you threw all over me."

����������� Tinsley softened a bit. He truly looked miserable. Water was still dripping off the ends of his hair. "Sorry." She handed him back the blanket. He bundled into it like an adorable little boy. "You frightened me a little, sleeping on the couch like that."

����������� "Yes, well, I am not stalking you. Not that it doesn't seem like you wouldn't just be a total picnic to stalk." Absently, he rubbed the blanket through his wet hair, toweling it off a little bit. "It was cold upstairs. You were right. I'll look into it. For now, I'm going to sleep a few more hours."

����������� "You can't sleep wet like that. You'll catch pneumonia. Take a shower. I'll make us some coffee."

����������� Tucker's stomach lurched at the very thought. He couldn't possibly being hungover. He'd never been hungover in his life. Was this how people felt when they were hungover? This awful? No, no, he had to have a touch of the flu or something. "Coffee doesn't...Not a good idea right now."

����������� "Okay. We'll work our way up to coffee."

����������� Tucker summoned enough energy to glare at her and her patronizing tone. "I am not hungover. I'm sick."

����������� She leaned forward and placed her hand against his forehead. "Oh, yes. You're burning up."

����������� "Am I?" he asked, in surprise.

����������� "Of course not. You're not sick. You're hungover. Come on, pull yourself together. Rally." She turned on her heel, walked firmly away from him, out of his sight, behind him somewhere.

����������� I'm fine, Tucker told himself, firmly. I'm absolutely fine. I'm going to get up now and take a shower. He stood, swayed, and sank back onto the couch. "I'm just going to sleep a few more hours."

����������� "You can't," Tinsley called to him, rolling her eyes as she opened his luggage briskly. Great. Just her luck. Her landlord was the biggest lightweight in New Orleans. She had to get him up and off her couch. He looked too dangerously kissable on the couch, sleepy and bewildered, wet.

����������� He was not a good packer. The clothes were thrown haphazardly into the suitcase. She selected a sweater and a pair of jeans, a pair of socks, and, forcing herself not to think about it, a pair of boxers. Then she walked back over to the couch. He had pulled the blanket over his head again, was huddled into it.

����������� "Seriously, you have to get up."

����������� He grunted.

����������� "I'm going to get more water," she threatened.

����������� He swore softly. She heard it and smiled. Then he poked his head out of the blanket. "Why can't you leave me alone?" he whined. "Why is it your mission in life to torture me?"

����������� "Here." She handed him his clothes. "Your bathroom's not stocked. You can use mine. You'll feel better if you get up, you know."

����������� Tucker took the clothes and regarded them. Then he looked up at her warily. "Are you serious? Will I really feel better once I get up?"

����������� "Oh, guaranteed," she assured him.

����������� Tucker sighed. He rubbed his hands into his eyes. "Okay," he said, making the decision, and stood up. He kept his balance, and, although the creatures in his head seemed to pick up the tempo of the hammering, the first wave of nausea passed. He was proud of himself.

����������� "Now go upstairs," said his tenant.

����������� And now he had to walk upstairs. Dammit, he thought. This was the worst day of his life.

Clara was sitting on the verandah. The weather had broken slightly. It was no longer so unbearably hot. Or maybe it was just that everything seemed so much brilliantly better this morning. Clara had been unable to stop smiling all morning. Even her parents had noticed. They had talked of Mr. Perkins's impending call, as if that were the source of everything. When really she could not stop thinking of Jean-Marc Trenier. He was so handsome. So tall and strong and broad. What had Delinda said? How every woman wanted Jean-Marc Trenier? And he was going to marry her! And they were going to have the most fabulous life. Wasn't that kiss last night an indication?

����������� She had lain awake most of the night after he had left her, her fingers resting on the lips he had kissed, tasting him in her mouth. Yes, tasting him. How dreadfully astonishing had that been? She had lain awake, wondering when he would kiss her again. Wondering if he would kiss her like that every day for the rest of her life. Would that be too much to hope for?

����������� She had dozed off, out of sheer exhaustion, near dawn, but she had not slept long before waking. Jean-Marc had promised to be near her, had promised to watch her and protect her. She was trembling with the anticipation of seeing him again. By daylight, finally. She had never seen him by daylight before. Would he look less thrillingly dangerous? she wondered.

����������� She sat on the verandah, thinking of him, waiting for him, so much so that when the butler gave her the little note, she thought it must be from Jean-Marc and took it with a shiver of excitement.

����������� I have been called out of town unexpectedly on business. Forgive me, my sweeting. All my love, Randolph.

����������� "What does it say, darling?" her mother asked.

����������� Clara, surprised by the note, folded it closed. "It is from Mr. Perkins. He says he cannot call today."

����������� "Oh, how disappointing. I know how you have been looking forward to it."

����������� "Mmm," agreed Clara, noncommittally, looking out over the back garden, hearing Jean-Marc's voice. Do not worry about tomorrow, cherie.

Tinsley," he said, when he walked back into the kitchen.

����������� Tinsley looked at him, dressed in the clothes she'd selected for him, dark hair sleek and wet and tousled all over his head. He looked mouth-watering. She hated him. She turned back to the omelet she was making.

����������� Tucker sank into the one chair Tinsley had carted into the kitchen. Tinsley had had no problem continuing to shower in her bathroom upstairs, which was much nicer than any of the bathrooms downstairs. But she had started to colonize the downstairs kitchen, starting with the one chair, pulled up next to the counter. If she knelt on the chair, she could eat comfortably on the counter.

����������� Tucker leaned his elbow on the counter now, and leaned his forehead into his hand. "Tinsley Stewart," he said, wearily. "That's your name. I remembered."

����������� "Yes," she agreed, concentrating on her omelet.

����������� "Tinsley Arabella Stewart."

����������� "Yes." Behind her, she heard the back door open and close, and turned, surprised, thinking Tucker must have left.

����������� But another man had walked into the kitchen, a man with reddish hair who she had never seen before.

����������� He did not glance at her, but said, immediately, to Tucker, "You're cheating on her?"

����������� Tucker lifted his head, blinked at Kingsley, glanced at Tinsley, then looked back at Kingsley. "What?"

����������� "If you are cheating on her, you do not deserve her."

����������� Tinsley waited for Tucker to deny that they had done anything that would constitute cheating. Except that Tucker kept looking at the man in bewilderment. "What are you talking about?"

����������� "The Lamborghini in your garage."

����������� Oh, thought Tinsley. This might get interesting.

����������� "What? What Lamborghini?"

����������� "Where is all that famous Trenier loyalty?" Kingsley demanded, impatiently. "I felt bad that I kept sliding you drinks last night so I could take the Porsche back. I thought I'd be a nice friend. I thought I'd come drop her off this morning. And I can't put the Porsche in the garage because your mistress Lamborghini is there."

����������� "She isn't my 'mistress Lamborghini.' I tell you, I don't know what you're talking about."

����������� "You think I'm making this up?"

����������� Tucker pulled himself out of the chair, disappeared outside.

����������� Tinsley, sliding her omelet onto a plate, waited.

����������� Tucker and the strange man walked back inside, Tucker slamming the door behind him. He looked absolutely furious. "Whose Lamborghini is that in my garage?"

����������� Tinsley took a bite of omelet, made a show of chewing it before answering. "Mine," she said, simply.

����������� "Yours?" said the man she didn't know, plainly thunderstruck.

����������� Tucker sank back into his chair and leaned his head into his hand again.

����������� "I'm Kingsley Robichaux," said the man she didn't know, walking toward her.

����������� Tinsley juggled what she was holding so she could shake his hand. "Tinsley Stewart."

����������� "Our names match," commented Kingsley.

����������� "It's like fate," Tucker drawled.

����������� Tinsley looked over at him. "Well, at least your sarcastic wit hasn't been hungover."

����������� "I'm a good car-sitter," said Kingsley. "If you ever need someone to watch-What did you just say?"

����������� Damn, thought Tucker, wishing he could sink right through the floor.

����������� Kingsley, curiously, walked over to Tucker and looked down at him. "You do look green around the gills," he said, in amazement.

����������� "What a ridiculous thing to say. Please leave me alone."

����������� "Are you actually hungover?" Kingsley asked, incredulously.

����������� "No," Tucker denied. "I don't get hungover. I think it was a bad oyster at Antoine's."

����������� Kingsley ignored that. "You were drinking beers all night. Beers all night at Pat O'Brien's." Kingsley leaned against the counter and grinned down at him. "The Great Tucker Trenier. Look at you. Paris was bad for you, Tuck."

����������� Tucker glared at him. "You're done with the Porsche, you know. You're never driving my Porsche again."

����������� Kingsley's grin did not falter. "Yeah, but now I've got her Lamborghini." He looked over at Tinsley. "By the way, I don't think you're understanding the magnitude of what you're witnessing here. This is Tucker Trenier. He is legendary. He's never had a hangover in his life. Whatever hoops you made him jump through to get you clearly shattered him. That was very well-done."

����������� Tinsley frowned. "I didn't-"

����������� "Get yourself up and out and to brunch," Kingsley told Tucker, ignoring Tinsley's protestations. "Have a bloody Mary. You'll feel better."

����������� "Why would a bloody Mary help a bad oyster?"

����������� "Uh-huh." Kingsley, still looking amused, looked over to Tinsley. "It was nice to meet you. Sorry to interrupt the tete-a-tete. But it was far worth it to see the Lamborghini. And him in such a state."

����������� "If I read about this in the Times-Picayune, Kingsley-"

����������� "I've got a cab waiting for me to take me home. I'll see you later."

����������� "Dammit," Tucker said, when the door had closed behind him. "This is going to be all over New Orleans."

����������� "That you have a hangover? Who gives a damn about that? What about the fact that he thinks we're sleeping together?"

����������� "Oh." Tucker waved his hand negligently. "I'll fix that. I couldn't do that at the same time he was figuring out I was hungover. Tucker Trenier, defeated by silly, stupid beers at Pat O'Brien's, and the luscious blonde at the bar is only in his kitchen because he rented her an apartment with no heat. Yeah, I'd never be able to hold my head up in this town again."

����������� "Forgive me," she snapped, "if I'm not concerned about your reputation as a drunken Lothario."

����������� "That is really not my reputation."

����������� "I don't want people to think we're sleeping together. We are not sleeping together."

����������� "See, here's the reason why they're going to think we're sleeping together. We're living together."

����������� "Not once you get the heat fixed. And until then you're living in a hotel."

����������� "Oh, am I?"

����������� "Yes. You cannot go on sleeping on the couch outside my bedroom."

����������� Tucker looked cross. "I am not going to ravish you. Look at what a good job I've done keeping my hands off you so far."

����������� "Yeah, because you feel like you're hovering on the verge of death."

����������� "That's an apt description."

����������� "Thanks. I'm a writer."

����������� "Are you?" he asked, and he sounded interested.

����������� She didn't want him to be interested in her. She wanted him to go to a hotel so she wouldn't have to think about him anymore. "Yes. Don't you have somewhere to go?"

����������� "Novels?" he asked. She didn't answer him. "Probably novels. Probably romance novels. Delicious fantasies."

����������� "What makes you think I have delicious fantasies?" she asked, sourly, washing her plate.

����������� Tucker snorted. "A woman like you? You were made for delicious fantasies."

����������� See, the thing was, when Tucker said that, it sounded like a compliment. It made her feel attractive and exciting. Tucker, she thought, had totally the wrong impression of her. He thought she went around kissing strange men in bars. Tinsley hesitated, trying to decide whether or not to bring up the kiss.

����������� "You didn't make me an omelet."

����������� Tinsley looked over at him. He was frowning at her, where she was scrubbing the pan. "I'm not your maid. Make your own omelet."

����������� "No matter. I'm going to go to brunch. Do you want to come?"

����������� "I thought you were sick."

����������� "I am sick. But I am also, paradoxically, starving. Kingsley might know what he's talking about with the bloody Mary suggestion."

����������� "I just ate," she said, simply, concentrating on the pan.

����������� "Right. But you can sit and have some bloody Marys. Or mimosas, if you prefer. We can get to know each other properly."

����������� "You're obviously recovering," commented Tinsley, drily, to the pan.

����������� "Trying to. I'm not a hundred percent yet. But even at half-power, I think I'm pretty charming."

����������� Tinsley laughed despite herself. "Of course you do."

����������� "Seriously. Come to brunch."

����������� Tinsley took a deep breath, still refusing to look at him, busying herself with closely scrutinizing the perfectly clean pan. "I don't think we should get involved."

����������� Tucker studied her back. "Who said anything about getting involved?"

����������� "Please. You take all your tenants to brunch?"

����������� Tucker watched her grab a dishtowel, begin vigorously drying the pan. "I've never had any tenants before."

����������� "Then let me tell you the rules. Landlords don't take tenants to brunch."

����������� Tucker tipped his head and decided the best thing to do was get it out in the open. "We had a spark last night."

����������� Tinsley almost dropped the pan. Bingo, thought Tucker. "We didn't-"

����������� "Come off it. I've never been kissed like that in my life. You clearly knew exactly what you were doing, and now you-"

����������� "I didn't know what I was doing," she protested, angrily. "I was drunk. I was drinking hurricanes." Tinsley, with a clatter, was leaning down, replacing the pan in the cupboard.

����������� "You didn't taste like hurricanes," said Tucker.

����������� Tinsley's hand slipped. The skillet collided with the other pans, sending them scattering onto the floor. "Stop it," Tinsley snapped at him, kicking the pans back into the cupboard. She slammed the cupboard closed, straightening, in frustration, wondering how to head Tucker and his expectations for a nice, easy roll in the hay off at the pass. She turned toward him, gathering herself for a grand, self-possessed speech.

����������� He was standing right beside her. She had not heard him get up. She had not felt him move toward her. But he was standing right there, eyes narrowed at her. He did not look pleased. She took an automatic step away from him, but there was nowhere to go. She hit the counter, and he leaned over her, his arms on either side of her, trapping her there.

����������� "Stop it," she said, a little tremulously.

����������� "There was a spark," he breathed. "There still is a spark. Tell me you don't feel it. It's like...God, it's like electricity. You don't feel it?"

����������� The thing was that she did feel it. It was like he said, electricity, a pulse between them, a singeing in the air. And it was terrifying. The kiss last night had been unmanageable. Anything further with this man would be suicide. He would make her wild, she thought. He would make her forget who she was. She would do things with him that she would never have done without him.

����������� And there was absolutely nothing appealing about that, she told herself, firmly. She was Tinsley Stewart. She had never wanted excitement.

����������� His eyes, she thought, were the color of deep water. Much too deep for her.

����������� Tucker sucked in his breath and took a step closer to her. There was scarcely a hairsbreadth between them. He did not need her to answer his question. Her eyes-green shot through with gray, he saw, now that he was right on top of her--were wide on his, and they looked the slightest bit terrified. And he suddenly understood why the terror was there. Whatever was going on here, amazing though it might be, was completely unexplainable. And somehow much bigger than them. Tucker felt he should take a step back.

����������� "What is it?" he asked, instead, hearing the shock in his own voice.

����������� It did not make her feel better that he was as floored by the mutual attraction as she was. Someone needed to have control here. Much as she didn't want it to be him, she would prefer that it be him rather than nobody at all. "You're an attractive man."

����������� "Thank you," he said, huskily. "And you're quite breathtaking."

����������� "Right. Two attractive people will naturally-" She moved, instinctively, closing the inch between them, locking into him like a jigsaw puzzle they'd finally managed to solve. And she closed her eyes with the startling pleasure of being flush against him.

����������� He would have noticed, if he hadn't closed his eyes, too, hands clenched into fists on the counter on either side of her. He didn't know whether to kiss her senseless. Or forget about the preambles and unbutton her jeans. Or run for his life. "You can't possibly be serious with this theory of yours." His voice was thick with the heaviness of his desire, of holding it inside him.

����������� She had lost the thread of the conversation. She recognized the desire dripping through his voice and caught her breath with it. If he kissed her, she thought, in astonishment, she would climax. She wanted his lips on her wildly. "Tucker," she begged.

����������� It was the first time she had said his name, and it smashed something inside of him. He felt it, the sharp, jagged edges of whatever had happened slicing through his insides. He wanted her so badly at that moment that he stumbled backward hastily. "We...I...My God. I'm sorry," he stammered.

����������� She opened her eyes. His sudden movement had broken the spell she had been wrapped in. She realized she had been behaving like a complete fool.

����������� But Tucker fled the house so quickly she didn't have to figure out what she would say to him.

Robichaux was working. He was covered in paint when Trenier walked in. Trenier walked around to the canvas to look down at it. "It's Marie de Boussey, isn't it?" he asked.

����������� "Yes," answered Robichaux, enthusiastically blending paint together.

����������� "I never realized she was so pretty before."

����������� Robichaux grinned. "She's not."

����������� "Oh, that's well done, then."

����������� "Yes, I'm proud of it," Robichaux agreed, scraping yellow paint onto his easel.

����������� Trenier walked back to the front of the room, the part without the paint spatters, and sat, lighting a cheroot as he did so. "I'm going to need you in about an hour."

����������� "Need me how?" Robichaux frowned at his canvas.

����������� "As a second."

����������� Robichaux turned his frown onto Trenier. "Who are you dueling now? You know I hate serving as your second. You know I hate the idea of having to pronounce you dead."

����������� "Robichaux, I'm the best shot-"

����������� "In the parish, yes, we all know. One of these days you're going to get cocky with that. You already are cocky with that. I wish you would stop."

����������� "When people stop calling me out, I'll stop dueling. Anyhow, I don't think this one will go forward. I need you just in case."

����������� "Who are you dueling?"

����������� "Perkins."

����������� Robichaux looked at him sharply. "You called out Clara Tucker's fianc�?"

����������� "No. Not yet. Not unless he doesn't pay me at twelve o'clock."

����������� "The way to win a woman's heart is not to kill her fianc�."

����������� "I'm not so sure about that. Clara might thank me. At any rate, Perkins is a coward. Perkins will turn tail and run to his plantation. Which is just what I want him to do."

����������� Robichaux regarded him thoughtfully. "I thought you'd given up on your Clara Tucker idea."

����������� "Well, I had, honestly. After we decided she was mistaken about...She lied to you."

����������� "What?"

����������� "She lied to you about having met me at the party because she thought you would be more likely to tell me that I should call on her."

����������� "How do you know this?"

����������� "She showed up at Marguerite's last night."

����������� Robichaux's eyes widened. "Clara Tucker was in Storyville last night?"

����������� "Yes," Trenier affirmed, puffing on his cheroot without concern.

����������� "Doing what?"

����������� "Throwing herself at my head."

����������� "Why would she-"

����������� "Clara has a plan. It's really an ingenious, daring, little plan. She's going to get out of marrying Perkins by being well and truly compromised. If she does it public enough, then he'll be so humiliated he won't be able to bring himself to marry her, even if he is in desperate need of her dowry."

����������� "And what better way to publicly compromise yourself than with the notorious Jean-Marc Trenier? The girl is brilliant. Who knew?"

����������� Trenier frowned. "That isn't why she sought me out."

����������� "What?"

����������� "I mean, yes, it was part of her plan. But she's in love with me. I am quite certain she is. Or, if she's not, that I can make her be so."

����������� "But what would you care whether or not she's in love with you? You plainly think she's pretty, and she's clearly willing."

����������� "I don't seduce innocents, Robichaux."

����������� "There doesn't appear to be any seduction involved."

����������� Trenier, looking displeased, puffed on his cheroot. Then he announced, "I'm going to offer for her."

����������� "What?" Robichaux exclaimed.

����������� "I'm going to offer for her. I'm quite laughably in love with her. It would be no use not to offer for her. She is what I want. I will have her. And if she doesn't feel the same way about me, then I have some courting to do."

����������� Robichaux was astonished. "You don't know what you're saying. You don't even know the girl."

����������� "I knew I was going to marry her the minute I saw her on the verandah," he said, impatiently. "And don't ask me to explain it. I can't. But I knew. You and du Reine knew that I knew."

����������� "Flirtation isn't your thing," said Robichaux. "You're overestimating your infatuation with her."

����������� Trenier's face was dark with displeasure. "I will marry Clara Tucker. With or without your approval."

����������� Trenier's dark moods terrified most men. Unfortunately, Trenier thought, Robichaux and du Reine had long ago learned to ignore him. Robichaux moved around the canvas, putting down his easel finally. "I just want you to be happy. How is this American girl, this prim and proper little thing, going to make you happy?"

����������� "Do you really think she sounds like a prim and proper little thing? She rides a horse astride. She showed up in Marguerite's front parlor and berated me for not calling upon her. She asked me to compromise her. She is as far away from prim and proper as you can get."

����������� "But, Trenier. You need a mistress for the plantation. You don't need a city hostess-"

����������� "She wants to see the plantation. She told me she wants to see the plantation."

����������� "Seeing the plantation and living on the plantation are two different-"

����������� "Then we won't live on the plantation," Trenier snapped, impatiently, standing and pacing around the room. "We'll live wherever she pleases. If she doesn't want to leave town, we won't leave town. I can carry on the business with the plantation from here."

����������� Robichaux was watching him worriedly. "But you hate the city."

����������� "I don't hate the city. You're not understanding. If I am not with her, I will be miserable."

����������� "And what will you do if she wishes to move back to New York?"

����������� "Then we'll go to New York."

����������� "Would you listen to yourself? This is not at all like you. Since when have you ever wanted to leave New Orleans? We can just about drag you from the plantation for amusements. Now you are speaking of moving to New York."

����������� Trenier sighed. He stood at the window, hands clasped behind his back, the cheroot still burning from where his fingers were loosely grasping it. "You don't understand. I feel as if she is a river rushing past me, and if I do not jump in, right away, I will lose my moment. I cannot lose my moment. I cannot."

����������� Robichaux could not shake the feeling that this was all moving extremely quickly. Trenier had spent years never even suggesting the possibility that he would ever take a wife. And now, here he was, taking of offering for a woman he'd never properly met. "What will her parents say, Trenier?"

����������� Trenier stayed at the window, staring out it, the line of his mouth grim. "I don't know. But I will throw money at them, if that is what it takes. I will give them everything I own." He took a drag off the cheroot, then exhaled it slowly. "Whatever it takes. I will make Clara Tucker fall in love with me. And I will marry her."





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