Paris, July 1789
Pierce Cardew, Viscount Blackspur, has played many parts - spy, smuggler, privateer captain. So when his family is threatened by a greedy blackmailer, and Pierce becomes convinced that the recently widowed Comtesse de Gilocourt knows more than she's telling, he takes a job that will keep her very close.
Surrounded by danger as the French Revolution begins, Pierce finds it unthinkable that this innocent beauty could be treacherous. And playing the detached footman becomes almost impossible when all he wants to do is take his mistress to bed!
"You may put on your shirt and coat now," she said, proud her voice sounded so matter of fact. "I will practise sketching you again tomorrow," she added, partly from bravado and partly to reinforce the idea she had only an academic interest in his body.
My Lord Footman: Excerpt
Pierre bounced his hands gently under the mass of her hair. She suppressed a slight shiver at a sensation which was unexpectedly pleasurable. She lifted her gaze just enough that she could see him more easily in the mirror. He was looking down at her hair, his expression very focused. She imagined her hair must be falling over his wrists in a cascade of deep auburn. She couldn’t remember Jean-Baptiste ever doing such a thing, or looking so absorbed in his task.
To her huge relief there was no carefully concealed disdain in Pierre’s expression as there had so often been in Jean-Baptiste’s face. He stepped around her to pick up a comb from the dressing table and began to pull it gently through her hair. He was wearing a black waistcoat over a white shirt, and a white powdered wig. Unlike Jean-Baptiste, who’d never removed any part of his livery in her presence, Pierre had taken off his coat and laid it aside. After her first moment of shock she’d realised it was a very practical action. It would be easier for him to work in his shirt sleeves. Now he was wearing well-fitted clothes she could see that she’d been right in thinking he had a strong, compact body. She wondered what he looked like without his shirt. The thought was intriguing and a little exciting, but of course she couldn’t do anything about finding out until she was completely confident he would not misinterpret her request.
She had spent the morning sewing silver lace to his coat. Everyone else in the household had had more pressing duties, but Melusine couldn’t attend her first dinner since returning to Paris without a liveried footman in attendance, and she wanted him to look impressive.
‘You will not tell anyone I sewed your braid,’ she said.
He glanced at her briefly in the mirror.
‘No, madame,’ he said. Something in his tone suddenly made her feel once again like the inexperienced, provincial girl who’d been thrust by marriage into the upper ranks of Parisian society.
Pierre had served a Duchesse, most likely been the Duchesse’s lover, though he’d refused to confirm that. He must consider it a step down in the world to serve her. She had haughtily told him she would give him a trial for a week, but was he already looking around for a more stylish, distinguished mistress?
He was looking at her hair, so she felt safe to look directly at him in the mirror. At first glance he was indistinguishable from many other menservants she’d seen. Neatly dressed, unobtrusive in his movements ... professionally expressionless ....
Except in her experience, that was the ideal - not the reality. Her father might have missed the twitch of bad temper when he’d ordered a footman out into the rain, but she’d always seen it. Just as she’d seen and inwardly cringed from the disdain she’d sensed in Jean-Baptiste. He’d never said anything out of place. Never done anything out of place except for the occasional sideways glance or dismissive flick of his fingers, yet she’d known he considered her an object of contempt.
Whereas today, apart from his cool response to her anxiety about the silver braid, Pierre was the perfect servant. And even then, she’d only had an indefinable sense that he considered such gossip beneath him. Perhaps his tone had not meant that at all. She watched his blank expression as he combed her hair and decided she seen fairground automatons revealing more individual personality, but she knew he had one.
She’d remembered their first meeting many times, and anticipated this moment with a combination of illicit excitement and terror that she’d made a dreadful mistake. Yet since he’d entered her boudoir he’d not said or done anything challenging. He had not, in fact, said anything at all. Apart from his brief “yes, madame,” all his attention had been fixed on her hair.
She watched him more closely, and saw what she missed when she’d been tensed for him to make some teasing, inappropriate remark, and half-afraid he might touch her improperly. He was concentrating very hard on her hair, and on what he was doing with it. By this time, Jean-Baptiste would have finished combing it out and would be sculpting it into some fashionable coiffure with deft, unfeeling hands. It had been the complexity of the styles which had taken the time, not lack of skill. And Jean-Baptiste had not been over-concerned if he occasionally pulled.
Pierre’s hands were larger than Jean-Baptiste’s, but she could see – and feel – he was taking care not to pull. His grey eyes were intensely focused, and when he drew the length of one heavy wavy lock of hair through his fingers she was suddenly, inexplicably convinced he’d done so because he enjoyed the sensation.
Pierre laid the comb aside and ran the fingers of both hands through the heavy mass. Then he started to massage her scalp. She hadn’t expected that. Her heart beat a little faster and she only just suppressed a gasp. She became very aware he was standing only a few inches behind her. His body wasn’t touching hers, but she could easily imagine that if he moved closer it would. Her hair fell over her eyes and now she was conscious only of the sensation of his fingertips on her scalp, the silky, raspy sound of her hair sliding through his fingers.
Her head was tilted forward; she was blinded by a curtain of auburn curls, and more vulnerable than she’d ever wanted to feel again, yet for a few moments the sensation was so enjoyable she couldn’t bring herself to move away. Then she remembered her suspicion that he was taking his time because he wasn’t a very experienced hairdresser. He had sounded slightly surprised during his interview when she’d said she expected him to dress her hair. Her brief acquaintance with him led her to believe he wasn’t the man to reveal areas in which he was less competent. But perhaps he might be quieter than usual when trying to carry out an unfamiliar task? And perhaps he was trying to use his skills as a lover to seduce her attention away from his lack of competence?
‘Do you know what you’re doing, monsieur?’ she demanded in a slightly muffled voice.
‘Be more specific.’ It was difficult to sound authoritative with her head bent forward and her hair over her eyes, but she tried to inject a note of command into her voice.
‘I am stimulating your hair to grow even more luxuriantly.’
‘By rubbing my head? You don’t know how to do my hair, do you?’ She lifted her head and pushed her hair out of her eyes. ‘You’re just trying to distract me from noticing. The Duchesse hired you because of your ... because ... in short, it wasn’t for your hairdressing skills.’
‘Madame, that is a very strange conclusion for you to draw,’ said Pierre coldly.
‘I don’t see why. Jean-Baptiste would have been jamming pins in me ages ago – and it only took him two hours to do it. At the rate you’re going, we’ll still be here at midnight.’
‘Jamming pins?’ Pierre repeated. ‘Sacrilege ...’
‘Oh, for Heaven’s sake.’ Melusine reached up and seized the comb. ‘If you can’t do my hair, you can’t. It doesn’t matter as long as you can open doors and hand me into my carriage and look the part of a footman. You can pour wine and serve vegetables without spilling them, can’t you?’
‘Even in bed,’ said Pierre dryly. ‘However, Madame, in defence of the Duchesse’s reputation, if not my own, I must reiterate that she was not, ever, my lover.’
‘I suppose technically, since she employed you, you were her -'
‘I have never been paid --’ Pierre took a deep breath and muttered something too low for Mélusine to hear. ‘Sit quietly and let me work,’ he barked.
She jumped and instinctively straightened her spine at the command. Then she remembered she wasn’t going to take orders from anyone any more.
‘You are not naturally suited to a subordinate role, are you?’ she said. ‘I noticed that when I was interviewing you. Domestic service does not seem your forte. I can much more easily imagine you as a schoolmaster, perhaps, or ... you can read, can’t you?’
‘There is no need to be offended. Many people can’t, and it would explain why you haven’t risen higher in the world. I could teach you if you like.’
‘I don’t ...’ he paused. ‘I can read and write French, of course,’ he said, ‘and speak a little English, though I can’t write it. It might be useful to learn more English. Can you teach me that – or any other languages?’
‘I can’t speak English.’ Melusine sighed. ‘Bertier promised to teach me when we were married, but he never did. I have a little Latin, though. That would be useful for a schoolmaster.’
‘Yes,’ said Pierre. His tone had changed, though Melusine had no idea why he suddenly sounded so remote when he was accepting her offer. ‘I would like you to teach me Latin. Who taught you?’
‘The nuns,’ she said. ‘I was educated in a convent. You don’t have to be a schoolmaster if you don’t want to.’
He didn’t say anything for a while. She watched in the mirror and wondered why there was an underlying grimness in his expression she hadn’t seen before. He reached for the curling tongs and she had a sudden, horrible vision of her hair burned off at the scalp.
‘Stop!’ she shouted. Pierre jumped and then swore under his breath.
‘Madame, if you do not cease interrupting we really will be here till midnight. Kindly sit still and do not shriek when I have hot tongs in my hand.’
Melusine swallowed, slightly daunted by his tone and reluctant to offend him any more, but very concerned about the future of her hair. ‘You are absolutely sure you know what you’re doing, aren’t you?’ she said.
Short of commanding him to stop completely there was nothing more she could say. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
He startled her by laughing. ‘Anyone would think you were going to your execution, not having your hair done.’
She opened her eyes and glared at him, even as she recognised there had been nothing unkind in his laughter. ‘That’s your fault for introducing doubts about your skill into my mind.’
‘Touché, Madam.’ He smiled. ‘Have no fear. Your hair is so naturally curly the tongs need be applied only lightly.’
To her relief, he was as good as his word.
‘I must wear powder today,’ she said.
He glanced up, nodded and began to smooth the lemon-scented pomade through her hair which would fix the powder he later applied. Then he shaped and pinned up her hair in the wide curls that were currently so fashionable. She’d been so sure he didn’t know what he was doing that she was quite surprised as the style began to form beneath his hands.
‘You have not worn powder before,’ he remarked.
‘Today I will be among those who will judge me for any lack of ... any lack ...’ her voice petered away.
He glanced at her in the mirror. ‘Do you care?’
‘I will learn not to.’
‘If you do not expect to enjoy this dinner party, why are you going?’ he asked.
‘My friend invited me,’ said Melusine. ‘She was married while I was in Bordeaux. I wrote to her when I knew I was returning to Paris and her invitation was waiting for me when I arrived. It is not Amalie, it is her guests-’ she broke off, annoyed with herself for revealing her nervousness at re-entering French society. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
‘For doubting your skill as a hairdresser.’
His brief smile didn’t reach his eyes. ‘I have dressed hair before,’ he said. ‘Just not recently.’
Melusine couldn’t bear the silence that fell between them. Despite Pierre’s brief amusement earlier, even her apology hadn’t lightened his mood. She was sure when he’d first started doing her hair he’d been silent simply because he was concentrating on his task, but now she was convinced they were somehow at odds, yet she had no idea why.
‘Tell me more about your mother and sister,’ she said, remembering how his expression had softened when he’d spoken of them before.
He looked up sharply, for a moment she almost thought he was suspicious of her question, but that made no sense. ‘Why?’ he asked.
‘You came back from America for them,’ she said. ‘You are doing this for them. I think it is admirable. Not all sons and brothers are so considerate. Not that I have either.’ She sighed.
‘Would you have liked a brother?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes,’ she said fervently.
‘To look after you when your husband died?’
‘No. If I’d had a brother I’d never have needed a husband.’
‘You think he would have supported you more generously?’
‘No. But it would have been his problem to give my father the noble grandson and heir that obsesses him.’ As she met Pierre’s shrewdly appraising gaze in the mirror and realised how much she’d just revealed her stomach cramped with sudden anxiety. ‘You must never repeat that to anyone,’ she ordered.
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