“I don’t think so. My uncle is here. I’m set up here…”
“Why not? Just for a day or two, then. What if I promise not to touch you?”
“That would be dull indeed.”
“Don’t tease me. What I’m suggesting is an old-fashioned courtship.”
“Forgive me if I’m missing something, but I don’t think old-fashioned courtships have ever consisted of young women who’ve already spent the night in a young man’s arms moving in with him.”
“Well, then it’ll be an old-fashioned courtship with a modern twist. What do you say, Cici?”
“You probably think this is just the sort of proposition that would appeal to a swamp girl like me.”
“I beg you not to tease me.”
“That’s harder than you think, you know.”
“Will you come?”
It was nearly noon when Cici followed Logan’s Lexus up his narrow driveway in the Garden District. Looking up, she saw his double-galleried, three-story, Italianate mansion lit softly by golden sunshine filtering through the trees.
Grinning at her for gaping at his mansion, he got out of his Lexus and swung her car door open. “Well, what do you think?”
“Your city home is every bit as impressive and magical as Belle Rose.”
“I hoped you’d like it. And, remember, I’m not bringing you here for sex.”
“Oh, really?” she teased, lifting her eyebrows with a pretense of schoolteacher primness. “But would a man who clearly wants to impress a girl with his wealth turn it down if she offered it?”
“Such a girl shouldn’t push her luck. Not with a man whose character has been less than perfect in the past. There are six bedrooms in this house. You can have any of them.”
“That one, too. I repeat: your choice. But I thought maybe we should slow it down.”
“What a shame.” With a smile she followed him up the stairs onto the lower gallery of his fabulous mansion.
After a night of passion, he had come after her, saying he was a changed man. He had brought her here to his home, saying he wanted to formally court her. Nonsense…probably…even thought he did seem boyishly sincere.
His mansion was as formal and classical inside as the outside.
“Oh, how lovely it all is, but then I knew it would be,” she said. “But then I already said that, didn’t I?”
“My mother restored this home as well as Belle Rose. She had impeccable taste and spared no expense. It would have been a marvel simply to restore both houses, but, no, leave it to her to acquire original furniture, portraits, and then mix them with antiques she carefully chose.”
“So, do you have time to give me a tour of this wonderful house before you go to the office?”
“All right. For starters, the house was built in 1860, right before the Civil War. I’m sure Noonoon told you that our family were royals who left France with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their jewels sewed into their pockets during the French revolution. Because of their title, their children married into the wealthier families in Louisiana. So, marrying well has always been part of the family culture.”
“No wonder your grandfather didn’t want a girl like me for one of his grandsons,” Cici said.
“Times change. But back then our ambitious family bought plantations with their jewels. By marrying well, too, they prospered. Then one of my most enchanting Creole ancestors, Francoise, married Able Claiborne, an extremely rich American, and he gave her this house for a wedding present.”
“What if I told you he kept the quadroon mistress he’d been in love with before his marriage?”
“Right. Back then a man could marry well and maintain the woman he really loved on the side.”
“Sometimes. In any case, Francoise didn’t get to enjoy her honeymoon here long. The Yankees occupied the house during the war. When she got it back, she was horrified to find her furniture burned for firewood and hoof prints from the Yankees’ horses on the ballroom floor and stairs. Of course, now these very same hoof prints are much prized.”
Cici laughed. “And I thought that was a cliché.”
He led her to the staircase and showed her the hoof marks. Then she looked up as he explained that the staircase coiled upward past large windows and double doors that opened onto a back piazza. The ceiling above the graceful stairs had magnificent plasterwork and a stained glass oculus in its center.
Once upstairs, he showed her all six bedrooms, the last and most splendid being his large master bedroom where an immense four-poster bed dwarfed the other furnishings.