“—-could be urgent,” she finished breathlessly, because what was supposed to be a ten-minute sojourn had been completed in two seconds, and she now found herself staring back at her sisters’ sly gazes.
Ilie carefully lowered her to her feet.
“Showoff,” she muttered under her breath.
“Only to serve you, milady,” Ilie said without missing a beat.
“Hurrah,” Fleur exclaimed as she clapped her hands in delight. “You saved her!”
“You’re so lucky,” Aurora gushed, “to have found someone like the marquis.”
Soleil rolled her eyes. “Drop it.” She knew that the only reason they were so intent on pushing her towards the marquis was because they wanted her to agree to be his heartkeeper – and save her life in the process.
But her younger sisters only laughed, and then they were pulling Soleil away from the marquis, their pretty, blood-spattered faces wreathed in smiles.
“Crystal called,” Fleur informed her. “Your new student’s sent word, and the ship carrying her should be docking in about a half hour’s time.”
“She wants you to be her welcoming committee,” Aurora added.
She glanced down at her watch, a sensible-looking Patek Philippe, and nodded thoughtfully. “I should make it if you drop me off the port—-”
“No need,” the marquis interjected. “It would be best if I take you there. Your sisters would appreciate an early rest, surely.”
Fleur suddenly yawned. “I am feeling a little tired.”
Aurora touched her forehead. “And I’ve a bit of a headache, to be honest.”
Soleil stared at them stoically. “You do know that you two are the worst actresses in history, do you not?”
But the two younger women ignored her and instead turned to the marquis. Curtsying at the same time, they murmured, “Milord.”
Soleil glared. “Oh, for fudge’s sake!”
The marquis ignored her, too, bowing as he murmured, “Miladies.” But his arm shot forward at the same time, barring Soleil from trying to escape.
When he straightened, she told him, “But my dress is in our carriage, and I still have to change—-”
Ilie cocked his head to the side, and then a moment later, he murmured, “My coachman has already retrieved it.”
She stared at him in consternation.
“Whatever their reasons,” he said coaxingly, “you must admit that they will benefit from an early night. Do you truly desire them to accompany you to the port when they don’t have to?”
Drat this man.
He knew just which strings to pull to have her do what he wanted.
“I despise you,” Soleil mumbled.
He brought her hand to his lips. “I thought you’d see it my way.”
The four of them parted ways when they reached their respective carriages, with her sisters blowing her kisses and pretending to sniff back tears like they were about to send Soleil off with her bridegroom.
“You two are going to pay for this,” Soleil vowed.
Fleur poked her head out of the carriage’s window and cupped a hand over her ear. “What was that, sister dear? I’m afraid I can’t—-”
Aurora yanked their baby sister back inside the carriage. “Don’t push it.” To the coachman, she said firmly, “Let’s go, sirrah.”
As the two carriages headed off in opposite directions, Soleil settled herself back on her seat, placed her hands on her lap, and slowly glanced up to meet the gaze of her companion.
“I have recently come to a realization that I wish to share with you, milady.”
He nodded solemnly. “It is a matter that must be rectified immediately.”
Soleil frowned, trying to think of such a matter. “What is it?”
“While I’ve already made you come twice—-”
“—-there is something I have not done yet.”
Now, she knew exactly what he was talking about, but she wished she didn’t because the matter was quite, quite embarrassing.
Their gazes met, and when she saw his knowing smile, she knew he was explicitly aware of the reason behind her pink cheeks.
“May I have your first kiss, ma lisse?”
Curse him, and he had to say it out loud, too!
Soleil knew she should refuse, but she couldn’t. The marquis was asking for her first kiss. What girl in her right mind could refuse such an offer? Even so, she muttered resentfully, “Why can’t you just take it? You’re supposed to be a rake. You’re supposed to steal kisses.”
His lips twitched. “Because you’re different, and so I’d like to court you, as you deserve, and this is a part of it.” He inclined his head questioningly. “And so what is it to be, milady?”
She protested helplessly, “But you already know—-”
“I need the words, milady,” he murmured. “I wouldn’t want to risk accidentally offending your sensibilities and incur a lady’s wrath.”
The marquis only smiled. “The words, milady?”
His gaze dropped to her lips, and she felt her throat dry, making her wet her lips. His gaze burned at seeing it, and her breath caught when she saw the promise blazing from the marquis’ magnetic silver eyes.
She heard herself say, “Yes. Y-you may have my first kiss.”