Kitty Cobham & The Chamber of Secrets Part 9
by Karen Lee

(posting with a brown paper bag over her head)

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters, yada yada yada....Ok, let's cut to the chase. What we have here is a major Kitty/DeVergesse wallow. Be gentle with me. It's my first time. The closest thing to this I have ever written in the past was a nifty little paper entitled "Spawning habits of the Native Cutthroat Trout in the Upper Stilliguamish Watershed", an experience I drew on heavily when writing this chapter. Also, I am beginning to suspect there is something "funny" about the Mesclun Mix that DeVergesse has been growing hydroponically for me in his water dish, which no doubt accounts for the rest of it.
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Sunday, Midnight, or shortly thereabouts

Kitty flung back the door, but DeVergesse was not alone. Behind him stood the tall, handsome young Frenchman she had encountered in the hallway that morning wearing her stocking tied about his temple. She stood rigid with surprise, feeling her face flush with indignation.

"You!" She hissed, glaring furiously at the younger man. "Why even bother to knock? Just come in and help yourself to whatever strikes your fancy."

DeVergesse, smiling wickedly, appeared to have misunderstood-thinking her angry words were directed at him.

"Who else could you possibly be expecting at this late hour? And thank you for your kind invitation."

He turned towards his man, fairly backing through the open doorway as he spoke to him.

"Attendre-moi un moment, Guilliame."

A moment? Did this mean he was not planning to stay long enough for Kitty to put her plan into action? Dismay tightened her stomach into knots.

DeVergesse shut the door behind him and whirled to face her, bowing quickly, his words tumbling out breathlessly.

"Do you have it? Did you get it?"

Kitty shot him an arch look.

"Of course. Did you doubt me?"

DeVergesse took her hand in his and, his face coloring with excitement, pressed her palm to his firm lips for a long, silent kiss. Kitty's breath came faster; the knots in her stomach drew tighter still. This Frenchman surprised her at every turn.

She mustered a superior smirk and, taking a deep, deep breath, she took up her clay mold of Don Massaredo's key and handed it to him.

"Here it is. Enjoy it in good health, Sir."

"The very key from about his neck?"

"The same."

DeVergesse cradled the piece of clay in his palm and opened the door. He stepped out into the hall but Kitty could faintly hear him speaking to Guilliame.

"Is there enough time?"

The younger man exhaled excitedly. "I hope so. Jesu! What took her so long? I thought she was going to discuss Don Quixote with him, not ask him to read her the entire novel. Hah! Why do you look at me like that? It is not my fault that we had to wait..."

"As your commanding officer, I order you to direct your attention to the matter at hand. De plus, Madame, elle-comprendre le Francais."

"Mais oui. Immediatement, Colonel."

"Alors, how long before...?"

There was a brief pause. "This is a very good impression. That helps."

"Bien. Et combien de temps?"

"An hour, hour and a half, maybe two at most. I can make the cast quickly, but the metal must cool, and there is the problem of the fisherman tied up in the barn. ZUT! Midnight! It is nearly midnight."

"Then keep him tied up longer. It will not hurt the stupid lout. I must stay here, you understand."

"Next time..."

"Be off! Be off or there will not be a 'next time'!"

"Oui, Mon Capitan."

The sound of boot heels clicking rapidly on the flagstones retreated and DeVergesse re-entered Kitty's quarters. She had withdrawn to the darkened recesses of her room, swaying back and forth a little on her heels as she mastered her emotions and camouflaged her nervousness beneath a mask of bemused irony.

The two stared at each wordlessly, English and French, woman and man.

She desperately wanted him to cross the room and embrace her, if only so that he would find the thrice-damned forged dispatches and end this charade so she could get some sleep.

But, it would be a mistake to appear too eager. That would arouse suspicion.

"Well?" she asked defiantly. "You have what you wanted. Why are you still here?"

He did cross the room and come to her, but this time, he did not touch her. He stood very close, and she could smell the slightly damp wool of his jacket overlaying something much more attractive, much more manly.

"I thought that perhaps..."

Ah, she had it. Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to flood with pleasure. The soapy scent of freshly-shaven male cheek combined with the light tang of fire-warmed male skin under clean linen.

"Perhaps?" she replied breathlessly. "Perhaps what?"

DeVergesse raised his chin arrogantly. "Perhaps, we two temporary allies could keep each other company while the key is made. I know I," he inclined his graceful head to hers, "am far too excited to sleep."

Kitty's sighed deeply, and glanced with longing at her bed. "I confess I am tired. This evening, this entire day, has been exhausting. Please, Colonel, I...." She allowed her eyelids to flutter, and she staggered a little, pressing the back of her hand to her temple.

He took her by the elbow and led her to the foot of her plain bed. He seated her gently at the foot of it and, removing a handkerchief from the inner pocket of his uniform coat, he wet it in her washbasin and carefully dabbed it to her temples, lifting her curls with infinite care. His touch was light as the brush of a butterfly's wings, but his face was stern.

"Kitty, how did you obtain the impression of the key?"

"And would you not like to know?" Kitty, feeling somewhat more refreshed and definitely less dizzy, tilted her head pertly and winked. She was surprised to see a spasm of something rather like pain flash across the Frenchman's strong, square face.

DeVergesse looked balefully at her. "His Excellency remains in ignorance?"

"Then and now."

"He sleeps? Did you use the laudanum after all?"

She wanted to torment him.

"He does, and I did, but not at first."

"And the key, you still have the book?"

"I gave you the impression of the key, is that not what you wanted?" Kitty grew pale. Did he know?

"No, I am sorry, I meant the Don Quixote, the key to Don Massaredo's heart, is that not what I called it when I gave it to you? My French, it gets mixed up with my English when I become distracted. I meant to say "Qui"-Who-who has the book now?"

"Why, I left it in the Don's bedroom." Good heavens, she thought with real fear. If he should search my room and find it, he will find that I have been in the chamber and taken The Lady and that could end very, very badly.

DeVergesse leaned over her and grasped her bare shoulders, his face close to hers. His eyes were suddenly alight with suspicion. "And that is all that you did? You got the impression from him once he slept and then you left right away?"

"Of course!" she retorted. "What else? It is not as if you actually told me where the bleedin' chamber was so that I could go have a look around it!"

DeVergesse released her from his grip, relief washing over his face, the tense lines around his eyes and mouth relaxing. "That is good. Your courage is such that you deserve to know the all of it someday, but that knowledge is too dangerous while you are here."

Kitty made a moue, for she did not believe that the Frenchman had any intention of ever sharing his discoveries with her, and indeed, how could he? She would be going to back England, hopefully someday soon, and she would never see the man again. And dangerous? Surely the Don would not punish her simply for having seen his private art collection. In fact, he would no doubt wish to reward her for protecting his treasure from the French.

More lies. God! She was tired of lies and deceit!

"I find I am torn between admiration for your resourcefulness and jealousy over what favors you may have granted the Don in order to accede to my wishes. My imagination is far too vivid."

With a self-deprecating laugh, DeVergesse seated himself beside her and, resting his elbows on his legs, he hung his hands between his open thighs and stared at the wall opposite the bed. He appeared deep in thought, but Kitty realized he was staring at the fashion plate in the frame she had taken from around the portrait of The Lady.

Kitty spoke quickly.

"There is something you must do for me tonight or I shall be forced to do it for myself."

DeVergesse turned a questioning face towards her.

"Should you have occasion to enter the Don's bedroom, you can bring me my shoes."

DeVergesse's lips parted. He searched her face intently.

"You left your shoes in his bedroom? Then--"

Kitty tapped his nose boldly. He WAS jealous! Kitty found the idea flattering beyond belief.

"Remember, Etienne, this was your idea," she teased. "If I had wished to seduce the Don for my own diversion, I could have done so many times over before you ever stuck your blunt Gallic nose into my peaceful prison life! I think it would be best for both of us if he did not have to puzzle in the morning about how my shoes ended up in his bedroom while he slept alone in his chair by the fire."

DeVergesse laughed, an unexpected, rich, deep-throated rumble. He slid off the bed and, surprising man, he knelt on the floor at the foot of her bed and lifted up her skirts just high enough to expose her stockinged feet.

"So you left him all alone in his room this night, sneaking silently out on your pretty little cat feet," he murmured, smiling and peeling off Kitty's stockings. "Poor Don Massaredo. I almost feel sorry for him. He probably never even got to do this."

Stroking her arches gently with his thumbs, he looked back up into her face and Kitty again felt as though she had temporarily lost her advantage.

"Or this."

He took one dainty foot and raised it to his mouth, caressing the top of it with his lips as he stroked the bottom of her big toe with his index finger.

"Or this?"

He trailed the edges of his fingernails around her heel, giving her the most delicious shivers.

"Did he?"

"You are no gentleman," she stammered, but he could tell from her face that the answer was 'no'. In fact, no 'gentleman' had ever paid such delicious attentions to Kitty's feet.

He smiled secretly and for an instant, she fancied she knew what he would look like in a moment of pure happiness.

"The word has no meaning for me, Kitty." he replied. "In the New Republic of France, there are just le ami, le bon ami, l'amoureaux, and un ennemi." He released his light hold on her foot, and smoothed the fine fabric of her dress back to cover her slender ankles. "I wonder how you really see my part in your drama, Actress? I suppose you see me as the villain of the piece."

Laughing, Kitty found herself unable to resist stroking his dark head, for he had deftly read her thoughts. Yes, she was the heroine and he the villain. How could he be anything else, Frenchman that he was?

"Oh yes, you are entirely wicked and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The audience must hate you by now, Etienne. The bird is in the air; I can feel the brush of its wings."

He smiled secretively, and pressed his temple into the palm of her curious hand, causing her fingers to sink deeply into the crisp, blue-black curls.

This was good, she rationalized. After all, she did wish him to discover the dispatches and how else should this be accomplished unless he start to undress her? So she must make him feel as though she wanted him to do that very thing, though against her will. She must make him believe that the skill of his lovemaking was such that it wore down every resistance, awakening her desire to the point that she would forget completely about a hidden packet of dispatches in her undergarments.

Fortunately, he was a man, so he would be eager to believe such a thing.

Unfortunately, he was a devilish attractive man and not entirely a fool. Kitty determined to regain the upper hand in the encounter.

"I think you are the most horrible creature in the world" she trailed, playfully tugging the black velvet bow that bound his short queue. It came undone, and she drew the ribbon from his hair smoothing the wavy black fall of it over his collar and noticing for the first time that it was shot through with a hint of silver. "But devilishly attractive. And I am weak...so very weak and prey to temptation. Just a lonely woman, stuck in this dull prison...."

"With no one for company but a callow youth and an old aristocrat...oui, oui, by now I know your lines as well as you do." In a moment, he had raised his body up next to hers and his arm encircled her waist. He drew her closer and she pressed her bosom into his chest, rubbing herself luxuriantly against his warm skin and tracing his strong jaw line with a tentative hand.

"And a French villain," she purred. "Do not forget that. The audience's sympathies will lie entirely with me."

"In Drury Lane, perhaps, but not everywhere," he said, trailing the back of his hand across her cheek.

She found herself kissing the top of his knuckles as if he were her liege.

"I cannot believe audiences in England are so different from those in France. In France we have a saying about a good cat."

Kitty felt another passing chill, and she shivered. Why would he bring up a quote about curiosity at a time like this? Surely he could not have guessed that she had been unable to resist using the Don's key.

"À bon chat, bon rat."

"'A good cat deserves a good rat'," Kitty mentally translated, then laughed with relief. Of course the French would have a different maxim. "And are you a GOOD rat?"

He slid his hands neatly around her neck and drew her face to his, kissing her deeply as his fingers worked her own hair ribbons loose so that her ringlets cascaded wildly around her face and down onto her bare shoulders.

"I hope I am," he murmured in her ear.

She moaned softly, tilting her head back, and he placed a burning kiss at the base of her throat.

"This is real, Kitten, not one of your plays. This performance might never be repeated."

She felt her self-possession drifting away on a warm and pleasant tide, and fought for purchase on the shifting sands beneath her. Summoning a seductive smile, she wiggled from his embrace enough to begin to unbutton his jacket. He, in turn, loosened the ribbon that held the front of her dress taut.

"Then," she breathed, "if this be a command performance, let us make it a triumph."

She eased the jacket from his shoulders, and he withdrew his arms from it, his eyes never leaving her face. Carelessly, she tossed the jacket on the bed behind where she sat, and she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his and ran her hands down his shirtsleeves, feeling beautifully-molded biceps merge into hard elbows and sinewy, rippling forearms. These she wrapped her fingers around and drew his arms about her waist, encouraging him with subtle shifts and nudges to begin unfastening the back of her bodice.

She smiled encouragingly, but he did not see her do it. His lips were parted, his eyes heavy-lidded with concentration as he slowly pushed the fastenings apart, a subtle smile playing at the corners of his sensual mouth, the tantalizing hint of a dimple appearing in his shadowed cheek. She wanted to kiss it.

"But whom do I undress? The Actress or the Duchess?"

"Does it matter? How can I tell you who I am when I do not even recognize myself?"

Kitty sighed with delight as she ran her hands over his lean hips and worked her thumbs into the crease in his breeches where his thighs met his groin. His belly retracted, drawing in and shivering with pleasure. He tilted his head back and she saw his chest muscles quiver violently through the thin fabric of his fine linen shirt.

"I am not usually this wanton," she whispered. "I am unable to resist your touch and I know I shall hate myself when I awake and find I have made love to the enemy. You are very wrong to take such advantage of a lonely woman."

"Do you hate me, Kitty?"

"Yes," she moaned, and unbuttoned the two hidden buttons that held his breeches fastened. He breathed his relief, and then she felt his chest tighten again as she slid her fingers between the waistband of his breeches and his muscular hips. "Oh yes. I do. Do you hate me? You should despise me-I am your enemy."

"I wish to heaven that I could." He gently slipped the unfastened bodice from around her bosom, easing the sleeves off to expose her pale smooth arms, which he covered with kisses. "It would make this so much easier for me."

Suddenly, he held her at arm's length and looked gravely into her face. Only a slight tremor in his hands and a distracting contour to his loosened breeches betrayed his desire for her.

Kitty, down to only her chemise and corset on top, still wore the heavy pale green silk skirt about her waist and legs. In contrast, she had succeeded in stripping the Frenchman of nearly all his clothing, and his shirt hung open loosely, gaping to the navel. Kitty scarcely breathed as she allowed her eyes to stray to his waist, taut muscles evident beneath the slightest padding of soft bronzed flesh. A thin line of glossy black hair trailed down from his navel to disappear into the folds of his breeches. Mother of God, she thought, he is beautiful. A better class of scoundrel indeed to debase one's self with.

"I have to say something, upon my honor, before we go any further, Kitten."

"Then for the love of heaven, say it quickly, sir!" she pleaded breathlessly.

"I cannot give you anything but what I have already promised, you know that."

"What do you mean? I do not understand you."

"A ship to take you to Lisbon in safety, and a blind eye turned towards your suspicious friends down the hall. That is all I am in a position to give to you."

"If you keep your promises, Sir, I shall feel I have made a fine bargain. What else could I possibly expect?"

"I mean," he swallowed, "that I cannot give you a name, security, money, any of the things I think you must expect from the men you normally allow in your bed. If you were French it would be different, but since you are not, our ways must eventually part."

Kitty blushed with anger and shame. "Is that what you think? That I only sleep with men who can give me money, security, or position in society? You may as well call me a whore!"

Stung, she drew back to strike him, but he was prepared, and caught her wrist.

"Doesn't every woman? In reality?" His face was bitter. "Is not that the usual bargain? And as I said, I keep my promises, those few that I make."

Her mouth trembled uncontrollably and she felt she might burst into tears, real tears, not the ones she had shed on Don Massaredo's bony chest. His words hit home, for that was indeed how it had been for her of late. But not always. If she had been more like most women, she thought glumly, she would never be in this sort of predicament.

"I shall show you how little I care for such things!" she retorted, standing up and untying the skirt from about her waist, taking care to include the linen roll that contained the real dispatches. The skirt and padded roll fell to the floor in an untidy heap and she kicked them carelessly under the bed. "Undress, Frenchman, I want to see if you are worth sacrificing my pride and self-respect for little more than a moment's pleasure."

"Oh surely more than a moment." DeVergesse rose and gracefully slid out of his breeches, shedding his shoes and peeling his silk stockings from his muscular calves. "For as you yourself said, I am not a callow youth."

Now he was stripped down to his underwear, just as she had seen him in the light of a single candle in his room. Here, though, in her well-lit quarters, his anatomy was even more impressive. Why, Kitty wondered, does the name of the Almighty spring to my mind over and over when I look at the body of this man who, I am convinced, is bad through and through and through.

"God. Oh God. Oh God oh God."

DeVergesse shuddered with relief as she entered his arms and began to run her hands up and down his smooth back, enjoying the resilience of the taut muscles around his shoulder blades and spine. She nestled one hand in the graceful curve of the small of his back and allowed him to kiss her more deeply even than before. She was pressed full against him, this nearly naked Frenchman, and she found that she positively vibrated with pleasure. He was strong, this man, and so self-possessed, but his touch was surprisingly gentle, lingering wherever it seemed most welcome.

He undid her bodice with shaking hands, but his face was all composed concentration. She was fascinated by his variety, his mixture of composed assurance and explosive passion, his disciplined body and sensual face.

And she recognized, as he passed his leather-smooth hand with tantalizing languor over her exposed bosom, that he could give her more delight with a single, fleeting touch than most men she had known could in a night of lovemaking. And she wondered, as he probed her ear gently with the tip of the blunt Gallic nose she had tapped so impertinently, kissing her earlobe and circling it lightly with his tongue, where had he learned to make love like this? And she knew, as he gently rubbed life and warmth back into the flesh of her back where her corset had cut deep reddened lines in her skin, that she had never felt quite so dashing and worthy of admiration as when she had been plotting and scheming to destroy him.

I have come alive for this man, she thought, thrilling to the feel of him through the front of her chemise as he pulled her onto his lap, balancing her weight effortlessly on his strong thighs. What a pity he is a Frog and an art thief to boot. My life is such a farce.

She moaned and raked the back of his smooth neck with her short nails.

"Kitten," he murmured. "I dreamed but dared not hope."

She knew the feeling.

 

Sunday, 12:30am

And there they were. Right where he expected them to be.

DAMNATION!

"What is this? What is this I find here?"

He drew away from her, scrutinizing the ribboned seal on the packet he held in his fingers. He could see her crumple under his furious, accusatory glare.

"N-nothing," she stammered. "Just letters."

DeVergesse tore his gaze from the packet violently, eyes all ablaze.

"This, Madame, THIS is the seal of the Admiralty in Gibraltar! You are a courier, carrying secret documents for the British! That makes you an enemy agent--a spy!"

"No!" Kitty cried. "Those are just letters. Letters to home from officers to their wives, dispatches like that! I promised to convey them to Portsmouth. Just a personal favor to Sir Hew, nothing more. Anyone bound for home would have done the same!"

"If that is all that they were," DeVergesse said firmly, "Then you could have asked Don Massaredo to post them along for you when you were brought here. He has already sent one packet to the Admiralty from here, informing them that he holds the Duchess of Wharfedale. How long do you think you have here before he is put in possession of the true facts?"

Kitty blanched. "He has written to the Admiralty?"

"Yes, Kitty. That is his duty. Naturally, he assumed the real Duchess of Wharfedale's noble friends and humble family would wish to hear that she was alive and well."

"Those dispatches are not of use to you," she insisted. He had already written to London? How much more time did she have?

"Shall we open them now, together, and find out?"

Her reaction was of great interest to him. Curiously, he hoped she would not care, overmuch, and that the dispatches would indeed prove to be nothing more than personal letters.

"NO! Not now." Fueled by a sudden burst of panic, Kitty reached out and grabbed the packet, "Give them back to me. I promised to take them with me back to England. You made a promise too. You said you would send me home if I got you the Don's key. Well, I did, and I am asking you, Sir, to keep your promise. Right away! Tomorrow! I have to get out of here."

Satisfied that he had indeed discovered documents never meant for enemy eyes, DeVergesse gravely pried her fingers off of the documents one by one.

"And I will. Madame, you shall be on a ship bound for Lisbon tomorrow. It has already been arranged."

Kitty gasped. "What? Nobody told me that? Don Massaredo never-"

"Ah, I see Don Massaredo did not inform you after all. He insisted the honor was his, though the arrangement was mine." DeVergesse stood before her. He was keenly aware that he appeared to disadvantage, for he had managed to lose far more of his garments than she had, and he knew himself to be vulnerable. She was so pretty, disheveled as she was. God help him if she put her hands upon his body again.

"Well," he shrugged, feigning indifference, "I suppose he, too, wanted to see what he could get out of you before he ran out of time and had to admit the truth. And this is the sort of man who arouses your sympathy. Alors, what can I say?"

"He--, I--, NO! That is not how he was. That would be despicable!" She flushed.

"Yes," DeVergesse said solemnly, willing his face to relax into lines devoid of expression. "It would be."

He glanced at the packet. "I suppose it is my duty to take these back to Paris and let them decide if they are useful or not. Madame, you have my sympathy."

"Your sympathy? I do not want your sympathy!"

"But you have it all the same. It was most disingenuous of the Don to withhold from you news of your good fortune. I think," DeVergesse continued, "I would not like to be trifled with in such a cavalier fashion."

"Men do not care about that!" Kitty stormed bitterly. "They are only too happy to oblige and then go back to their lives!"

"Not this one, Madame."

"Then if you are NOT like most men," she pleaded, holding out open palms to him, inviting him to take her back into his arms, "Give me back the dispatches. In truth, they can signify little in such a big, big, messy war, and if you are not like most men you will choose a woman's love over glory. I do want you, Etienne, even if it is only for a single night."

DeVergesse, caught in the act of bending over to reach for his shirt and breeches on the floor, hesitated.

"What is it going to be, then? Me, or the dispatches?"

He stood frozen, lips parted, lost in thought, but then he pulled his stockings and breeches back on with resolve, not meeting Kitty's eyes. It would be so tempting, so easy to do. But it occurred to him that it was terribly important that if she gave herself to him, it should be without an ulterior motive.

"Etienne, what is it going to be?"

It occurred to him that he wanted very much to know if she were even capable of wanting a man just for the pleasure of his company. It occurred to him that it had suddenly become important that she like him.

"If I were an Englishman," he said hoarsely, "You would despise me if I shirked my duty to my country for a moment's pleasure."

The realization dawned on him that he might not, after all, be very likeable any more.

"More than a moment," she murmured. "You did promise that it would be more than a moment."

And then he reminded himself that this woman was probably a spy, and undoubtedly an actress, and he would be mad to trust anything she said, even though he desperately wanted to believe her simply an unwitting tool of the British Admiralty.

He shot a quick glance at her by-now tear-streaked face and continued stonily, repressed desire turning his normally-smooth baritone into a husky growl.

"Because I am a Frenchman, you think you can bend me to your will, lie to me, hide your true purpose from me under a mantle of kisses and false tears."

"And you think no better of me, because I am a woman, and as soon as you find something more...more...important, you are off!" Kitty stormed to her feet, tossing her chemise loosely over her exposed shoulders and chest. "Why should I have expected anything different."

"I cannot in all honor stay here with you if that is your condition, Madame!"

"You are crueler in your honor than most men are in their depravity."

"Kitty, I beg of you"

"English, French-the only thing that makes you different from each other AT ALL is the color of THIS!"

She grabbed his uniform jacket from the bed and threw it at him, hitting him full in the face with the heavy woolen wad of fabric and braid. He caught it, but she grabbed his elbows and shoved him towards the door, then stooped to pick up his shoes. They whizzed past his head, missing his ear by inches, and hit the door with two loud thumps.

"For the love of God," DeVergesse pleaded, "Be quiet! You shall bring the guards from their quarters!"

"Get OUT!" Kitty hissed. She grabbed a ceramic pitcher off the washstand and waved it at him.

"I shall!" DeVergesse exclaimed. "I am going, I am so sorry, but what else can I do? I admire you more than any woman I have ever known, but I do not trust you, Kitten, I am an Intelligence officer; surely you see I cannot sleep with a woman who may be a spy?"

"Get OUT!" she waved the vase at him in an even more threatening manner. "I WILL break this vase, I WILL! I will wake the whole goddamned Hacienda."

DeVergesse didn't doubt for a moment that she would. He threw the jacket over his bare torso and buttoned it as he slid quickly out the door, closing it behind him.

"And do not forget to bring me MY shoes in the morning or I shall tell Don Massaredo everything!" she hissed, then slammed the door, shooting the deadbolt so loudly that it sounded like a rifle shot, leaving him hopping awkwardly about in the hallway outside her barred door, hastily trying to get his feet back into his shoes. A Frog.

 

 

Sunday 1am

Well, she thought. That is that. He made his own choice, and sealed his fate.

Kitty turned bitterly to her empty bed and noticed that DeVergesse's shirt still lay on the floor at the corner of her bed. She picked it up, shaking out the folds and smoothing it flat out of habit, then wadding it into a heap.

I think that went rather well, she thought. In fact, it went exactly according to my plan.

She put out all the candles, save one, then froze, struck by an idea.

Wait a minute. What was that all about-he acted as if he were the one who had been betrayed? He knew I had the dispatches. He knew where they were hidden; I had made sure that he knew. He knew that when he found them, he would take them from me and that would be the end. He could have gotten them from me before matters went anywhere near as far as they did between us?

What does he feel for me? Does he feel anything at all? And why should I even care?

Something else nibbled at the edges of her mind as well. Why his interest in the Don Quixote, his obvious relief when she told him she had left it in Don Massaredo's bedroom? Something about the uncharacteristic way he had stumbled over his question bothered Kitty a great deal, but she could not put her finger on it.

Images tumbled through her consciousness, a dizzying web in which she could find no common thread. The dispatches. Don Quixote. The Don. The key. And oh God, DeVergesse in his bare-chested male beauty.

She was tired, so very tired. And tomorrow, she would be on a ship bound for Lisbon. Without sleep, she could not hope to sort it out before she left El Ferrol.

Still trembling from her angry eviction of DeVergesse, it was all more than she could bear to think about right now. It was, to be certain, more than half a performance, deliberately-staged, and yet, there was still a core of sadness inside her that her satisfaction in having trapped the Frenchman in his own web could not completely allay. What would she have done if he had given her back the dispatches? He knew she had but one more night in this place. This had been his very last chance.

It did not bear thinking about. Did she really think he would be any different from any other man she had ever known? All of them, when it came down to it, chose career over love. And those that did not, she sighed, were probably too stupid or too dissipated to be worth the bother.

No wonder she had never married. At least by this time tomorrow night, the regrets would be more on his side than on hers. He would know she had bested him. And she would be on her way to Lisbon, and home. Really, this was the most satisfactory conclusion to the entire affair.

Kitty found the dregs of the laudanum, drained them, and then threw herself onto the bed. Burying her face in the fine fragrant linen, she watered the French Colonel's shirt with her tears until drugged sleep washed over her like a warm, salty tide.