She was already halfway to the kitchen door when she heard Mrs. Bouilloire ask, “Then tea perhaps, mademoiselle?”
“Umm, no, I’m fine.” She smiled awkwardly. “So good night—-”
“What about dessert?” This time, it was the chef asking her. “It is your favorite type of éclairs, coated with blueberry with a hint of violets—-”
Oh, darn it.
Her mouth started to water, but—-
Arabella took a step back. “I really have to go.”
When the chef turned to face her again, he was already holding out the tray of desserts to her.
She stared at it longingly. Perhaps a bite, or perhaps a slice—-
“Won’t you stay behind, mademoiselle, to enjoy this?”
Arabella managed to wrest her gaze away from the tray of temptation. “I would really love to, but I can’t.”
“Why are you in such a hurry, child?”
“Because, umm—-” As she tried to think of a plausible excuse, someone from the back of the kitchen started to giggle before the sound was abruptly cut off.
Her gaze narrowed.
Now that she thought of it, why was everyone suddenly interested in keeping her in the kitchen?
She looked at their faces one by one, and they all looked back at her ever so innocently.
“Quit acting, everyone. I’m not buying it.”
There was a moment of silence and then suddenly everyone started laughing and grinning at her – very, very slyly.
Nana sidled up to her, saying, “You tell us, mademoiselle. Why are you so in a hurry to leave?”
“Perhaps it’s because the master is waiting for you in your room, oui?”
“No!” Yes, oh God, that was exactly it, but how did they know?
Nana giggled when she saw the look of consternation on the American woman’s face. “Don’t be shy. It’s natural to behave like this with the man you like—-”
Arabella’s cheeks turned red. “I don’t like him. He’s my captor.”
“Oui, that he is.” This time, Nana knew better than to gloss over the fact. “However, it does not mean the master cannot be something more than that, too, oui?”
“We think you two make a great pair,” another maid said dreamily.
“Oh for God’s sake, I haven’t even seen him.”
“Exactement, mademoiselle,” a third maid piped in earnestly. “You already have stars in your eyes—-”
“I do not! Take that back!”
“Yes, you do, mademoiselle! Et c’est mervellieux!”
“Now you’ve lost me,” Arabella said bluntly.
The maid giggled. “What I mean, Ms. Blume, is that it’s wonderful for you to look like that when you speak of the master—-”
“Oui, oui,” the other young women of the staff chorused.
“And it is the same for the master,” one of the gardeners inserted. “I heard from Mr. Flamme and Mr. Temps, they were talking about how the master had changed and that he was no longer brooding as much.”
Now that was news. “Does he like to brood a lot?” she couldn’t help asking.
The entire staff gasped, and even Mrs. Bouilloire appeared stunned.
“You know about her, my dear?”
She nodded slowly. “He told me about her – and that he had made her leave because the men who had killed his father had come after them, and he didn’t want her to be in harm’s way again.”
“Oh, Ms. Blume.”
To Arabella’s surprise, tears actually started to glisten in the older woman’s eyes. “Are you okay, Mrs. Bouilloire?”
The housekeeper sniffed. “I’m sorry for being emotional, but it’s only that I haven’t even let myself imagine that this day would ever come. And now it has—-” The housekeeper’s eyes brightened even more. “I am so, so very glad that you were the one who made the master open up, mademoiselle.”
Arabella’s mouth opened and closed. She belatedly noticed how the whole staff was looking at her like she was the second messiah come to life, and it left her stumped. What would Jesus Christ do in this position?
She said finally, “It’s probably because…I don’t know, maybe it’s the whole strangers-in-the-dark thing. I’ve also found myself telling him things that I hadn’t told anyone else.” As she spoke, the younger girls of the staff actually released a collective aww, and her eyebrows shot up in alarm.
“Stop that! This is not an ‘aww’ moment.”
“I disagree,” Nana countered right away, a sly look in the woman’s eyes. “I think this is very much an ‘aww’ moment. The two of you have developed a bond, mademoiselle—-”
“Oh, we do have a bond alright,” she quipped. “It’s called captor and captive.”
Ignoring that, Nana continued, “Now all you have to do is accept your feelings—-”
“Oui, oui!” The younger women had once again started speaking in a chorus.
Arabella glowered. “Go oui yourself,” she grumbled. “This conversation is so over.”
But everyone only laughed, and as she turned away, some of them even wished her luck, like she was heading to battle instead of merely hitting the sack.
“Oh, for God’s sake!”
More laughter, the sound of which made her ears burn and trailed after Arabella even as she ascended the stairs leading to her room. Darn Frenchies. She made it to the top of the tower in record time, and Arabella gave herself a pat on the back when she noticed that her breathing had remained regular the entire time.