Every night after dinner, he would visit Arabella in her room, just as he promised. They argued most of the time – or rather, the billionaire would say something particularly insightful, and Arabella would pounce on it without hesitation and do her best to tear it apart. She didn’t want him to sound reasonable or wise or even kind. To do so would make him seem more than this faceless captor. It would have made him a real man – three-dimensional, multi-faceted man, someone she couldn’t hate just because things were black and white – and she didn’t want that.
And then there were the times that they weren’t arguing. These were the moments when she was already in bed, curled under the covers, and yet they would continue to talk until she drifted into unconsciousness.
Sometimes, he would make Arabella talk about herself, and it never failed to shock her every time she heard herself do so. She would tell him things that she had never told anyone before, and she would speak of feelings she had long hidden, even from Maurice. She told him about how her Mama had left her and Maurice because of money, she told him of how Maurice still wasn’t able to forgive himself for their family breaking apart, and she even told him of how she was secretly glad that her Mama had finally left because then it would mean all the shouting would stop.
Other times, it was Aurélien who would talk. He told her of his mother dying to give birth to him, of his father dying when he was in his teens, and later, much, much later – he told her of Louise, an older woman he had fallen in love with when he was but a teenager.
“You do know that makes her a pedophile,” Arabella felt the need to point out when she learned of their age gap. “Right?”
“There are other ways of looking at it.”
“Umm, no. Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you can’t be taken advantage of. You were seventeen when you guys hooked up.”
“The legal age in my country is fifteen.”
“But she’s American, so like I said: she’s a pedophile.”
Aurélien had chuckled then. “Is that actually jealousy I hear?”
“You wish.” But inside herself, she was horrified because it was so.
This was a new low.
How could she be jealous over an ex-girlfriend – and of her captor at that?
It was just so ridiculous that she couldn’t bear to think about it. Actually, she couldn’t bear to think, period. She had a feeling every time her mind started to run, she would be reminded of it.
Captives were supposed to hate their captors, Arabella!
Not get jealous!
“Is something wrong, Arabella?”
“No,” she said shortly. “But I’m tired, so I’m going to sleep.” And without waiting for him to answer, she just jumped into the bed and hid under the covers.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, this was bad. If she didn’t know any better, she would think she was having a crush on Aurélien Sauvage.
And that was so not fucking right.
There Is No Us
Squeals erupted inside the kitchen the moment Mr. Flamme made his grand entrance. The women clapped their hands, and he bowed with a flourish to accept their adulation. “Ladies.”
They squealed anew as they converged around him, asking one question after another.
Had the master come to Arabella’s bedroom again?
What had he heard?
Had it finally happened?
The head housekeeper sighed at the girls’ insatiable curiosity. They all thought it terribly romantic that the master was wooing his lady from the shadows, and the older woman knew that in their minds it was but another Gothic love story unfolding before them, and that a happy-ever-after ending was guaranteed.
Oh, if only she could be as optimistic as they were.
Leaning towards Mr. Temps, who was calmly drinking his coffee beside her on the table, the housekeeper asked in a low voice, “What about you, sir? Do you think there is hope for our master?”
Her eyes widened. “Really now.”
“Why are you surprised?” the butler asked. “Hope is not bound by the rules of reality or logic, Mrs. Bouilloire. Rather, hope exists wherever we want it to exist.”
The housekeeper frowned. “Then what are you really saying? That we can hope for the best but prepare for the worst?”
“That is a good suggestion, but more than that, I would say hope is also quite contagious. It won’t hurt if we put in a good word here and there about the master.”
“DINNER WAS LOVELY,” Arabella told the chef that night as she patted her lips with her napkin. Standing up, she said, “Thank you again, Mr. Aliment.”
“Would you like to have some coffee before you retire?” the housekeeper asked as she started clearing the table.
“Oh, umm, no.” She pushed her chair back in and smiled politely to soften her refusal. “I’m okay.”