All the anxiety I had been put through during the day pulled me into sleep faster than I could have imagined. The stresses had completely worn me out and as soon as I managed to make myself comfortable and closed my eyes I drifted off. It was a fretful sleep at first; I worried about Gabriel and Isolde, feared having to face Philippe again and Monsieur and Mademoiselle Delacroix as well. I imagined myself confessing my engagement to my mother and father and boldly telling them that I would not break it and marry anyone else.
The chaotic images eventually subsided and I slept somewhat soundly for a number of hours. Then I awoke having the distinct impression that someone was talking to me, "Ssh," the voice whispered and an arm was eased across my back and then adjusted me to sitting. I knew I should have been afraid; terrified, but I was complacent and calm. "I'm sorry to wake you, Vivienne," the man's voice continued as I tried to recognize who it belonged to, "but I need your help." He knelt down on the floor and though I tried to catch a glimpse of him, it was too dark for me to see more than his outline.
"Will you help me, Vivienne?" his voice, it sounded so anxious, so desperate. It nearly broke my heart and I heard my voice crack with sorrow as I answered, "Oui, oui, of course. I will help you; however I can," I reached out and caressed the hand that was resting on the edge of my bed. It was cool and smooth yet taunt with a fearful strength.
As my fingertips glided across the back of his wrist he grasped my hand and turned my palm over. "Close your eyes," his voice was soft but willful and commanding. I didn't hesitate to do as he asked then he lifted my arm and brought it to his lips. There was a dreadful pain at first and I wanted desperately to cry out but I couldn't. An unimaginable serenity quickly settled over me and it felt like I was being turned inside out but in an intensely pleasurable and erotic way. I could feel myself being drawn away and into this strange person kneeling at the edge of my bed and I never wanted it to end.
"Oh," I moaned, "please, please," but he pulled away and without his support I feebly slumped back against my pillow.
He brushed the hair from my forehead, and kissed my temple, "Thank you, Vivienne, now I will be strong for you tomorrow," and as he stepped away it felt like a veil was falling over my mind's eye and all that had happened was lost in the dreamy haze it created.
I sat bolt upright the following morning with the sun shining bright and the breakfast bell ringing. I was groggy and weak as I slid from my blankets and though I tried to hurry knowing how late it must have been I didn't have the strength. My head throbbed as I began to dress and I felt like I had better pace myself and that if I didn't I might fall faint.
When I finally made it to the dining room everyone glanced my way and I quickly apologized for my tardiness. I took my seat and my father motioned to have our meal served. As I shook out my napkin I caught a glimpse of him and noticed that he looked very refreshed that morning; the way he did when he had just gotten back from Paris.
I turned my eyes to my mother, and she too, looked strangely rejuvenated. It was more noticeable on her because I had never really seen her when she hadn't been taking her laudanum. Her complexion, the brightness of her eyes, the sheen of her hair; all were markedly improved. I blinked and looked again just to be sure of what I was seeing.
My eyes fell on Jean, but he was savoring his breakfast and was seemingly unaware of anything unusual.
"Eat, Vivienne," my father teased, "you look as though you have never sat down to breakfast," he finished with a chuckle.
I smiled at his good humor despite the lingering disappointment I felt for what happened between him and Isolde. I took up my silverware and began picking away at my breakfast.
"I hope you slept well, Vivienne, we have a busy day. Did you know our guests arrived late last night?"
"Non, Papa, non, I did not. I…I must have slept soundly," I frowned because I did not actually feel as though I had slept at all. I brought a forkful of fruit to my mouth and as I lifted my arm an image flashed in my mind like a memory or a dream.
"Is everything alright, Vivienne? You look…confused."
"Oui, Papa. I…I think I had a strange dream last night but I am having trouble remembering it."
"Well perhaps you shouldn't dwell on it, I'm sure it's not worth missing breakfast over," he said dismissively.
As I finished eating my thoughts returned to Isolde. I wondered where she was and whether she was alright. I asked to be excused and my father nodded his approval after reminding me of our company. He suspected that it would be lunchtime or later before they would be rested enough from their travels and made sure that I knew I was expected to be on hand should they wish to meet me. Afterwards I went to the kitchen to ask Cook if he had seen Isolde and if she had eaten. He apologized and said that he had not noticed her that morning but he was distracted by the arrival of my father's guests and hadn't looked either.
I went outside and called for her while circling the house. When I had made a complete loop I sat down on the front steps exasperated. I wanted to run down to Gabriel's to ask if he had seen her but had promised my father I would stay home to meet his company as soon as they were ready. I looked longingly down the path and sighed. Gathering my skirts I turned to head back inside.
I whirled about and there was Deaglan striding towards me and joyously leaping ahead of him was Isolde. She flattened me on the steps and licked me with a savage affection that had me laughing so hysterically tears started rolling down my cheeks.
Though he found the full humor in the situation and was tempted to let her torture me further Deaglan called her off and helped me to my feet. "Someone's missed you!"
"I've missed her," I gathered Isolde's happy face in my hands and kissed her nose. "Where did you find her?"
"I didn't, she found me!"
"Well thank goodness she did. She…my father…oh, Deaglan," all my happiness faded, "she tried to attack my father last night and he put her out and wouldn't let me go after her."
All the seriousness of what I said washed over Deaglan, "She didn't hurt him, did she?"
"No, but," I shook my head, "I think…could she should stay with you for a while…at least until I can be sure it won't happen again?"
"Of course," he said, "I know she and Trista will love spending a few days together."
"Thank you Deaglan. Have you seen Gabriel this morning?"
"Not yet. I came straight here. I was worried something was wrong when I saw Isolde without you."
I tried not to think about all the things that were wrong, "Everything is fine," I smiled brightly. "She was probably just upset with all the changes taking place. We have company and I have moved to a new room and my father no longer allows her in the kitchen or dining room. Once things are back to normal we will forget all about this, right Isolde?"
Deaglan looked skeptical but shrugged in agreement anyway. We talked for another minute or two and after giving him a message for Gabriel, Deaglan and Isolde started on their way back towards the farmhouses. It wrenched my heart to watch her go, but I was so relieved that she was alright and with Deaglan that I bolstered myself and held it in.
I decided that I had better head up to my room and prepare myself to meet our guests. As lunchtime neared I was summoned to the kitchen and remembering Gabriel's promise to bring Cook his recipe I hurried down to see him. He was a little dusty and disheveled from his morning's work but when he smiled he took my breath away. I could feel myself flush from head to toe and desperately tried to compose myself before Cook noticed.
It was a fruitless effort, though, and I could see the understanding in Cook's eyes as he grinned and winked at me before making a scanty excuse to leave us alone for a moment. As soon as the door closed behind him I ran into Gabriel's arms and lost myself in the rapture of his kiss. It reminded me again of my dream, of that wonderful feeling of being swept away from myself and into someone else and the desperate need to cling to them and never part. It was different, though, because it felt…mutual…like an exchange rather than the drawing away of myself with nothing in return that I seemed to recall from the previous night.
Gabriel reluctantly pulled back and smiled down into my eyes, "What was that for?" his voice full of surprise.
"I…I've just missed you," I gave him another quick peck. "Have you seen Deaglan, did he tell you what happened?" I pulled Gabriel to the broad bench in the corner of the kitchen.
"He told me about your father and Isolde, yes," he shook his head sadly.
"And did he tell you that my father's guests are here?"
"Non, he must not have realized I would want to know."
I took his hands in mine and squeezed them tightly, "It's true, Gabriel. My father expects me to marry Mr. Delacroix. Jean told me at dinner last night. I don't know how he knew, if my father told him, or he overheard a conversation, but I'm sure Jean would not have said it unless it were absolutely true."
Gabriel took a deep breath and looked away, "Have you confronted your father? Have you asked him outright and did you tell him about us?"
I pursed my lips, "Non, I did not Gabriel. I never had a chance. My parents were not at dinner and I didn't see them until I was heading up to bed…that is when Isolde went after my father. Afterwards I could think of nothing but what had happened."
"Of course," he caressed a loose strand of my hair. "We could do it together," he looked hopeful and sincere, "if you are afraid to do it alone."
"Thank you, Gabriel, but I am sure it would be best for me to do it alone, no matter how much I would appreciate you being there."
We could hear voices in the dining room and both said at once that Gabriel should go. He tucked the recipe into my hand, kissed my cheek and disappeared.