“Prior to boarding the ferry, you were scanned for any modern communication devices. Please know that even if you were able to find a way to sneak your phone in, it still wouldn’t work here.” She gave them a charmingly sheepish smile, saying, “Let’s just say the signal’s extremely bad.”
One of the tourists raised his hand. “I have a question.”
“Milady,” Fleur said sweetly. “As the daughter of a baron, I’m to be addressed as ‘milady.’ Of course, I’d rather you say Fleur, The Prettiest Girl in the World, but—-” She gave the tourists a pretty little shrug. “We must learn to cope.”
Her audience laughed.
She looked expectantly at the man who spoke earlier.
An infatuated look on his face, he said obediently, “I have a question, milady.”
Fleur clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” She rewarded him with a smile and then shared it with the rest of the tourists, murmuring, “I hope you understand that you won’t mind we’re all so formal here. Again, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you will, just pretend you’re like Alice, and you’ve fallen into a rabbit hole that’s transported you to the land of fairytales.” She did a little twirl, and the skirts of her pink gown twirled around her.
Ilie looked at the tourists, and he was amused and impressed to see everyone had fallen under her spell.
The orientation ended twenty minutes later, and Fleur was the last to come out of the classroom. She curtsied upon seeing him, murmuring, “Good afternoon, milord.”
He bowed. “Good afternoon, milady.”
An older woman came forward then, and Fleur introduced her to Ilie, explaining, “Miss Margaret is my companion.”
Ilie greeted the other woman pleasantly, and Miss Margaret let out a girlish giggle.
Fleur snapped her fan open and covered her mouth so she could grin. Miss Margaret was normally prudish, but she had suspected her companion would be no match for the marquis’ seductive airs.
And she was right, Fleur thought, grinning again. Wait until she told Soleil about this.
She glanced at the Marquis, asking cheekily, “Are you looking for my sister?”
“Will you tell me where she is?”
“Of course.” Mischief danced in her eyes as she added, “But only if you tell me something first.”
Ilie had to smile. “Are you actually trying to blackmail…me?”
Fleur let her eyes go wide. “I have no idea what you’re saying, milord.” She gestured to the stairs. “Shall we? The tourism office has a beautiful garden at the back.”
And so they walked, and while surrounded by tourists and workers, they restricted themselves to pure pleasantries.
But when they reached the garden, with Miss Margaret walking a small but proper distance behind them, Fleur asked flatly, “Will you have other women even when my sister’s your heartkeeper?”
Ilie choked. He had not expected that at all.
Fleur looked up at him, her gaze serious. “Soleil was fifteen when she first saw you.”
He was stunned. He’d never imagined she had known about him for that long.
“You weren’t alone though.” Fleur’s lips were compressed. “You were with…” Her voice lowered, and she looked behind her shoulder to make sure her companion wouldn’t overhear her. Satisfied, she looked back at the marquis and said darkly, “You were with a…doxy.”
Ilie flushed as Fleur’s words painted an unbecoming portrait of himself. He could just imagine how his heartkeeper felt, having seen him with another woman.
“I deeply apologize for that,” he said stiffly.
“You should say sorry to her, not me.”
“I will most assuredly do that as soon as you tell me where she is.”
She shook her head. “Not so fast, milord. You haven’t answered my question yet.”
He gazed at her thoughtfully, his head cocking to the side. “You appear to be the sensible sort, milady.”
“I’m sensible,” she agreed, “but not as smart as Aurora or as practical as Soleil.”
“Good common sense is all I need,” he assured her. “You are aware of how heartkeeping works?”
“Just what most people know,” she answered.
“Then you know, milady, that heartkeeping doesn’t necessarily mean two people being in love with each other?”
“And your point, milord?”
“Fidelity is not a requirement of the union.”
“Then she won’t accept you,” Fleur said without hesitation.
“You sound so certain of this.”
“But you also mentioned your sister being practical.”
“That’s mostly a front,” Fleur said with a shrug. “She’ll kill me for saying this, but really…” Her voice lowered into a confidential whisper. “Deep down inside, my sister is the biggest romantic of all.”
“Really.” Somehow, he could not picture the extremely lethal leader of Les Trois Belles Lames as a romantic.
Fleur nodded vigorously. “She’s always dreamt…” She paused. “Actually, forget that. I think that would be drawing the line, and Soleil’s never going to talk to me if I let that one out.” She looked up at the marquis, wondering what the right thing to do was.
They had always known who Soleil’s heartkeeper was, and she and Aurora had teased their sister all the time about the marquis being the opposite of Soleil’s ideal man, which was someone gentle and scholarly.