“But it’s not,” Arabella pointed out.
“Only because you insist on thinking it is not,” Mrs. Bouilloire countered calmly.
She shook her head stubbornly. “And my father? What about him? I’ve been forbidden contact with the outside world, and that includes my father—-”
“I am certain that the master may reconsider, if you persuade him nicely.” Mrs. Bouilloire gave her a meaningful look.
Arabella gasped, unable to believe that such a sweet-looking granny would suggest a thing. “You mean—-” She shook her head in disbelief. She may not watch a lot of TV, but even she knew that there was only one master that everyone spoke of these days.
Shaking her head, she said feelingly, “I can’t do what Daenerys did to tame Khal Drogo, not even for my father.”
Some of the staff choked while the housekeeper only looked at her in puzzlement. “Whatever are you talking—-” A giggling Nana hurried to whisper into the woman’s ear, and the housekeeper turned red. “My goodness!” She started fanning herself. “My goodness, no! I was only talking about the two of them starting off as friends!”
Arabella was saved from making embarrassing excuses for herself when the chef presented her with coffee on the go, and a still-giggling Nana grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the kitchen.
“I can’t believe I thought of that,” Arabella said weakly as they made her way down the Great Hall.
Nana started giggling again. “Oh, but I think it is very appropriate, considering that the master—-” She stopped quickly, realizing what she had almost let slip.
Arabella raised a brow. “Considering the master is what?”
“Umm, nothing.” She changed the subject, saying, “You will love the gardens, I promise.” She nodded at the guards positioned by the front doors, and the men immediately pulled the doors open.
Arabella’s eyes widened.
The garden at the back of the mansion had been beautiful, but oh, this one in the front was amazing. Everything was larger than life, and the colors more vivid. It even had its own bridge, its own pond—-
“We skate there during the winter,” Nana shared eagerly, seeing where Arabella was staring. “And over there—-” She pointed to the far side of the island. “We can ski and sled. We even used to have midnight bonfires, and there would be wine and hot chocolate, and oh, so much food from the master’s kitchen! Winter is magical here,” Nana boasted.
“I see.” Don’t let yourself get swayed. Don’t let yourself get swayed.
“You will like it here, Arabella. I promise.”
Nana’s words were like a dose of ice-cold water.
The smile from Nana’s face faded.
“He bought me! He made me his slave! How can I forget that? And how can you all accept that?”
“Because—-” Nana gulped. “Because we think you’re the one who can make him happy—-” Arabella had started shaking her head even before she finished speaking, but even so Nana said persistently, “It’s true, Arabella. We truly believe—-”
“Even if it’s so,” Arabella couldn’t help bursting out, “what about me?” She threw her hands up in helpless frustration. “What about what makes me happy?”
“But you can be happy here, if you’d only give this a chance—-”
“And what about what’s right and wrong?” Arabella demanded.
Nana didn’t answer right away.
“I won’t be able to live with myself, knowing that I just went with whatever Aurélien Sauvage has planned for me simply because I have no choice!” Her voice shook at the end, and appalled at her near loss of control, Arabella started taking deep breaths.
“I am sorry, mademoiselle.”
Arabella didn’t answer. It seemed like everyone here was quick to say they were sorry, and yet none of them also seemed sorry enough to help her to leave.
She took a slow sip of her coffee, and it was of course the loveliest latte she had ever tasted.
Arabella squeezed her eyes shut.
Perfection everywhere she looked, perfection in everything she experienced or tasted – but should it be enough?
“Yes, Nana?” She kept her gaze ahead as she took another sip of her coffee, fearing that if she saw pity on the other woman’s eyes, she would lose it and start bawling like a kid.
But oh, she was so tired and confused.
Help me, God.
And that was when she heard Nana say hesitantly, “You told me earlier that you were the practical type, mademoiselle. And with the island truly being inescapable – what is there for you to lose, to at least try and see if you could become the master’s friend so he would see things the way you do?”
Whispers in the Dark
In the distance, a faint melody played down the halls of the mansion, the grandfather clock heralding the arrival of midnight. Inside her room, Arabella was seated in front of the fireplace, her legs folded sideways under her, her chin propped over the curved armrest of the settee. She was lost in her thoughts when all of a sudden her senses began to stir—-