The house was in an uproar - full of anxiety to get everything in order before the arrival of my father's guests. There was so much preparation between getting their room ready and planning activities, menus and so forth that I was able to sneak away for an hour or two each afternoon to see Gabriel. The first afternoon I told him all about the conversation I had had with my father and my relocation to the attic. He asked me about who we were expecting and why there was so much importance being placed on their coming.
I couldn't remember their names and wondered whether or not they were ever even mentioned, "I honestly don't know who they are, but I would rather not talk about them, anyway." We were sitting together in the loft our feet dangling over the edge, sharing our lunches. "It's good that they are all so busy and distracted," I said as I brushed a lock of his hair from his eyes. "If they are like this again tomorrow perhaps we could meet at the clearing," I smiled at Gabriel as I saw how enticing he thought the suggestion sounded. I playfully reached between his legs and nuzzled his neck.
He pushed his lunch aside and took my lips in his. His hands raced over my chest and thighs; my body thrilling at his touch. This time it was my turn to be our voice of reason.
"Gabriel," I gasped, "we mustn't. Not here, not now."
"No…yes…you're right," he seemed to shake himself back to reality then quickly thought better of it and with a wicked gleam in his eye kissed me again just below and behind my ear. "But tomorrow…"
"Oui," my skin rippling with gooseflesh, "demain," I assured him as I did my best to check my own desires. "Tomorrow," I promised, when he nibbled my ear and began caressing the inside of my arm with his fingertips, "tomorrow we can be together!" and though I was smiling I roughly pushed him away.
Reluctantly Gabriel turned back to his lunch but I could see an impish grin playing on his lips and I knew that I was not quite safe despite his resumed interest in eating. I tried to distract him by asking about his father and about Deaglan. He gave me brief answers glancing up at me each time but saying nothing more than a few words.
"It's no use, is it?"
"Non," he shook his head and widened his grin.
I slowly leaned toward him and pressed my lips to his. My mind went dizzy with delight as the kiss lingered moment after moment and I could think of nothing but never letting it end. I was so absorbed that I didn't hear someone calling up to us from below until Isolde gave a happy bark and startled me back to my senses.
"Oh, Jean," I abruptly stood up, "how long have you been there?" I colored with shame.
He just smiled and looked at Gabriel, "sorry to interrupt your…" he cleared his throat, "lunch… but my father has asked for his horse and I am here to fetch it for him."
"Of course. I'll be right down." Gabriel stood up and brushed the crumbs from his thighs. He looked at me and despite that I shook my head no at him he kissed me on my cheek anyway and before he hurried down from the loft, "Demain," he whispered, "demain at lunchtime."
I bit my lip and whispered back, "Oui, bien-aimée, oui."
I cleaned up the remnants of our lunch then followed him down, "Goodbye," I called as a Gabriel gathered my father's tack.
"You don't have to leave, Viv," Jean walked me to the doorway.
"I know, but it's better that I do."
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
"It's not that…I…I have plans."
"If you wait, I'll walk back with you."
"Non, then Papa will know that you found me here," I said without thinking.
Jean nodded, "Right, well, I'll see you at home then. You know you don't need to hide your feelings from me; I will keep them to myself."
"Yes, of course I know Jean. Thank you," I kissed his cheek and waved once more to Gabriel as he glanced at us from where he was saddling my father's horse.
Isolde and I crept in through the kitchen and carefully made our way upstairs. Just as we neared the attic Isolde charged in growling and bristling. I followed as quickly as I could, calling to her as I ran up the last few steps and crossed the threshold. My eyes followed Isolde to my bed and I nearly screamed when I realized that there was someone resting in it.
"Damn she's a beast! Why does she hate me so?" Philippe asked.
I clutched at my heart trying to still it, "You startled her that is all," I defended her behavior. "You startled me, Philippe!! What are you doing here?"
"Call off your mutt and I'll tell you."
I looked him over skeptically, "Isolde, come!"
She grudgingly trotted to my side. Philippe slid his feet over the edge of my bed and pushed himself to sitting, "I've come to say goodbye," he said.
"Oui, I am going meet Papa's guests in Villetoureix and bring them the rest of the way here."
"But Jean only asked for Papa's horse," I immediately regretted sharing this knowledge.
"Ah, so you've been with that peasant boy again, have you? What do you see in him anyway?"
I didn't answer knowing he wouldn't understand.
"Oh, well, it doesn't really matter anyway. Sooner or later Papa will marry you off and that will be the end of it."
My face fell despite my efforts to hide my emotions. I had been so shrouded by my feelings for Gabriel that I never considered the possibility that I would marry anyone else.
"Touched a nerve have I?"
I scowled at him.
He sat silent for a moment studying me then said, "Come now," his expression suddenly turning sympathetic, "this is no way to leave off." Philippe stood up, "I am sorry I teased you," he sighed expressively and took a step towards me. His handsome face was so sincere, so believable; he held his arms out in gesture of apology. I reluctantly stepped into them to hug him back. "I'm sorry," he whispered into my hair.
I started to relax but then he slowly began tightening his grip and I felt a quiver of panic run through me. He thrust his groin hard against me, "You're fucking him, aren't you?! I knew there was something different about you," he tried reaching down between my legs but Isolde sensed that I was in trouble and lunged for Philippe toppling us both.
I kicked myself away and watched as he cowered beneath Isolde's attack. There was a gleeful horror in the scene but I just couldn't let her hurt him.
"Isolde!" I shrieked, "No!" she released his arm and bristling with anger stood over him for a moment more then returned to my side.
"Get out!" I screamed at Philippe, "Get out or I'll let her finish what she started!"
He stood up and inspected himself. Somehow he had managed to escape with little more than a few minor punctures and a torn sleeve. "Goodbye sister, I'll see you when I get back," there was a vicious curve in his lips. "Oh, and I like your room," he glanced around taking it all in. "You're so far away from everyone here, I bet you could scream like that all night and no one would hear you."
"Get out!" I pointed with severity and Isolde seconded my command. As soon as I heard his steps on the stairs I sunk to my knees in shock and grief, "Oh, God!" I cried.
I couldn't move, couldn't think as I sobbed in remorse and disbelief. It began to grow dark, the dinner bell rang, but I never heard it. A number of minutes later Jean came into my room and wrapped his arms around me protectively.
"Viv?" I nearly struck him I was so consumed by what had happened. "Whoa, Viv, it's me Jean," he clutched at my hands. "What happened to you? Why are you like this?" he soothed.
"Oh, Jean," I threw my arms around him and gave wild abandon to my tears.
"Ssh, ssh," he whispered as he helped me to standing. He shuffled me toward my bed and had me sit down. "Vivienne, what is it? What's wrong? Is it Gabriel, did something happen? Did he do something to you?" I could hear the protective anger in his voice.
"Non, non," I clutched at his hand when he started towards my door. His intention was simply to close it but I was so adamant that he not leave me he left it ajar and instead sat down beside me.
He stroked my forehead and pitifully looked me over, "I cannot help you, Viv, if I don't know what's wrong."
I wanted desperately to tell him what had happened; I needed to tell someone. Confiding in Jean, though, I would have to tell him everything, tell him I was no longer a virgin, that I had made love to Gabriel. That Philippe knew and what he had done; what he had threatened.
"I cannot tell you, Jean. I cannot tell anyone!"
"It was Philippe, wasn't it," Jean had a faraway look in his eyes. I could see him thinking, picturing what might have taken place. "I saw him come down the hall holding his arm before he left. He was bleeding. Isolde did it; she was protecting you from him. What did he do Viv? What did he do?!"
"Nothing, Jean, I swear! He has…he's just never forgiven me and Gabriel for what happened to you both the night they found you in the woods. He…he…he just grabbed me and he threatened me…but…but nothing happened."
Jean was peering into my eyes as I said this, "You don't need to keep the truth from me, Vivienne. I know the kind of man Philippe is," I saw him tremble with suppressed anger. "I've seen the way he looks at you when he thinks no one is watching. I never thought he would…" Jean choked the words back. "He's gone now; he left over an hour ago. He won't be back for a day or two. Then there will be Papa's guests. You'll need to stay home while we have company; Papa will expect it. Hmm," he paused, "I'll have one of the servants put a lock on your door and give you the key. You'll need to keep it locked, even when you are not here."
"Oh, yes, I will!"
He smiled weakly, "I could speak with Papa for you…"
"Non, Jean, Non! Papa would never believe you and it would only make matters with Philippe worse."
"Non, Jean, non!"
Not only was I horrified by the idea of anyone else knowing, I was terrified that if Jean aired his suspicions to our father that Philippe and I would both be questioned as well. Philippe knew, he knew about Gabriel and me. I was sure he would use the knowledge to cover his crime by exposing mine.
"Ok, Viv," Jean patted my hand. "I need to get back to dinner. I will tell Mama and Papa that you are not feeling well and are resting. I'll ask Cook to send a tray up for you and Isolde after they have gone to bed."
I stood up, "Thank you, Jean," and walked him to the door.