Thursday, 7 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 7 Word Count 2037

Her voice had been calm, even amused, as she spoke and she wasn't sure if that was what had annoyed him most, or if he had simply been insulted by her words. Either way, she considered her goal to have been achieved.

The triumph she felt at having so obviously riled him made her hide her own fury with a veneer of supercilious contempt for his shallowness, his lack of empathy and his poor education. He, in his turn, later confided to her that it wasn't that she had dared to address him in that way – although it was an easy shield at the time – but that she had so effectively displaced the selective blindness that had kept him in ignorance of the hardships of so much of the population simply because it was inconvenient to admit that British society had the same problems as the French had experienced prior to the Revolution. He hadn't, and many of his peers had similarly not, wished to admit that their position, their wealth and their comfort was precariously balanced upon both the suffering and the lack of action taken by the members of the mass populace.

He was badly shaken by her attack and she felt an urge to follow up her advantage. He had clearly come to discover her intentions with her French adventures, as he called them (and in her mind it sounded like nothing so much as a euphemism) and possibly stop her. Andy's failed attempt had not discouraged her and she already had a plan half formed to locate the older Andy and make a second rescue attempt. So far, her plan had been formed from the reports of French troop movements through France as they appeared in the daily newspaper. From the movements reported outside Paris, she was able to project a short way to the south west where a town renowned for its smithing was based. If a man was to develop musketry, a smithy would be vital. He was no longer in the environs of Paris – that much had been established on Andy's previous visit.

She intended to send Andy and James back the following day, after he had sobered up fractionally, to find out if that was where the army had moved the older Andy and establish if that was to be their base for any extended period of time. If both were true, Andy was to return and they would work out a plan to rescue the elder. If they hadn't taken the elder there in the first place Andy was to return immediately and if they were moving on shortly, he was to attempt to follow them to their next station, scope it out then return to make plans.

In the meantime, she could have a little fun. She eyed her companion speculatively and decided upon a surprise attack:

“Ask me to dance again.”

“I beg your pardon?” he unconsciously parroted the words she had used earlier and she smiled, under her mask.

“In most societies it is frowned upon when one casts oneself uninvited into the embrace of another. In this society it is positively scandalous and I should never dare risk it.”

“And you fear scandal so greatly?” His tone was sceptical and she smiled, acknowledging the truth of his sardonic query.

She turned to face him and he automatically inclined his head to ensure he heard her words. Instead of speaking she took his right hand in her left and placed it on her waist. Then she ran her hand up to his shoulder, drawing her body closer to his as her arm moved upwards. He was frozen, shocked, but not rejecting her. Her hand crept to his neck and rested there while her face – particularly her lips – neared his ear. She murmured, in a low husky voice that had a tendency to succeed with men:

“There is nothing worse than scandal.”

Moments later she caught her breath as she felt his arm tighten around her and his tension dissolve into purposeful gliding motion as he steered her onto the dance floor. For her, it was the most exciting dance she had experienced since her arrival. The others had been with men who weren't interested in her and were doing it to meet their social obligations at high society events, or with men who were convinced she was a sure thing and had little finesse or sensuality in the dark, behind a mask at a masquerade.

This dance was different. His body moved sensuously near hers, but was not aggressively overt. Instead of feeling bored by the familiar groping closeness the other men of the time had exhibited, she was tantalised by the suggestion of intimacy that occurred when he turned her and felt herself looking forward to those brief moments of excitement. His rhythmic dipping and turning was confident and he steered her capably around the floor. It was her first dance where she truly let herself relax into the flow and simply enjoy it.

After the first few turns of the floor, she had become more aware of the curls of hair millimeters away from the fingertips resting at the nape of his neck and began unconsciously running her fingers through them. Her hands were chilled, due to the frosty night air, and she could feel the warmth emanating from him. The hair was curiously cold in comparison and silkily dragged over her fingers. He shifted and pulled her fractionally closer in response to her intimate motion.

All too soon the dance was over and the two of them separated. He bowed, she curtseyed and they departed the dance floor at opposite ends.

She found her unmarked carriage easily enough and went home to dwell upon the excitement of the night. She loved this kind of encounter – one where the sensuality was exciting but not the whole tale. A man who knew how to lead her and tantalise her in that way was a man whom she could fantasise about all winter, even if nothing occurred in reality. For the rest of the night she lay wide eyed in her bed, staring into the fireplace, remembering the heat of him, his raspy voice and subtle fragrance.

The next day her plans for Andy were described to him. She didn't tell him about her encounter; in truth the conversation that had triggered it was so far from her mind that the omission did not seem to be pertinent. Andy was enthusiastic to return to France – he had enjoyed his first journey and the company of his friends. Also, having been raised in the French Empire of the 21st century, early 19th century France seemed more homelike to him than England did and he had felt more relaxed there. The additional adventure of scoping out an army and plotting to save a man added an edge of spice that he delighted in.

He left that evening, he and James riding to a yacht moored on the Thames, ready to take them into France at short notice. She remained in London, attending ball after soiree after masquerade; dancing into the night, dallying at cards and flirtation. She had the time of her life in public, and in private she was developing her plan to provide aid for the abandoned girls of London. Mary had made one or two suggestions and Melissa had pushed them forwards with typical enthusiasm. It was that activity which had kept the attention of the rather serious men surveying her actions and they received their report from France at the same time she received a visit from James, who called upon her as soon as he was in the vicinity. He hadn't bathed on his return journey, nor had he dressed well leaving France. He was bloodstained, saddle sore and clearly exhausted.

The second she saw him, Melissa rang a bell for Mary and that good woman provided a bath and a dressing gown in one of the guest bedrooms without hesitation or query. He refused to attend to his own comfort until he had unburdened himself of his bad news.

He and Andy had gone to the town as instructed and found his other self there. They had discovered that the army was firmly entrenched and he was developing the Emperor's new tools of war with reckless abandon. Within the first day they had realised that Andy was a regular patron at one of the inns – it appeared the older Andy was something of a drunken sot at this time. He had been picked up by the French due to his boastful drunken demonstrations of the amazing things he could do and how he could lead the Empire into victory. He had been summonsed for execution for announcing that without a genius like him to develop their weapons the French Army would surely be crushed by the glorious British empire.

However, on the day of his execution, Bonaparte himself had intervened and had the man removed from Paris to this small town where he was given the opportunity to prove the truth of his statements.

James had been disgusted at this description of the man. Andy had merely laughed and called that it was a great adventure. He had immediately decided that such a creature should not wait and rot and, informing James that all was well for he would never die, he charged into the inn to separate his other self from the French armies. His boisterous drunken antics had so closely mimicked what the French had grown to expect of their Andy that for a few minutes they hesitated – long enough for Andy to reach himself and explain, loudly and at length, how he was going to rescue the other man, because if he didn't the French would destroy the world. Despite the heavy drink induced slurring, the French soldiers understood clearly and Andy was shot six times.

He'd staggered and laughed as he announced he couldn't die and it was a waste of ammunition. He'd continued talking and laughing as he slumped, in his own embrace, to the floor, where he passed out and died moments later.

Melissa had been parading the room as she listened to his tale and at its culmination she was positioned by the mantlepiece, leaning over the fire. Despite her expectation, she was unable to refrain from clenching the mantle convulsively as he described the death of her friend. Her teeth gritted and her mind cascaded every possible reason why this could be. None made sense except one that the older Andy had been wrong to suppose that the safety of the device could be extended to anyone, even a genetically identical individual.

She spoke to James for a few moments about what he had achieved in returning safely with the information he carried and sent him abruptly to his bath. She was not alone for long before a visitor was announced. “Lord Penthvere to see you Madam.”

She eyed the approaching gentleman with some confusion, before her mind made the connection. He had no stubble visible in this light at this distance, but he clearly knew her and was about the right size. In this light she could see that his hair was as dark as she had supposed, but his skin less pale – the night lighting had washed out his skin tone. In reality he had a slight tan, suggesting a frequently active outdoor life compared to the pallor of the boys in Andy's circle from night after night of carousing followed by days in their beds and only a short sojurn into daylight at a time.

His eyes were, however, as dark as the mask had hinted. There was no distinction between his iris and pupil, leaving a quite unnerving sensation of being under fixed scrutiny at every second. He reached her and bowed over the hand she delicately extended. As he stood, she gazed up at him. In her house shoes she barely reached his shoulder and, without the domino to add to her own size, she felt frail and waifish next to his solidity.  

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