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   Chapter 12 A midnight encounter

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 18907

Updated: 2018-05-18 10:19


"You seem worried, Virginie."Amélie was sitting at the head of an almost deserted table, at the end of an extremely quiet supper. The young woman put her desert fork down after finishing the last bite of her kouign-amann1, dabbed her mouth with her fine linen napkin, and smiled reassuringly at her hostess.

"No, I'm not in the least, Madame. I must just be tired; after all it has been a long day, rife with emotion."

"That is indeed true, " Amélie murmured, as she eyed the empty chairs and the untouched place settings. Her beloved son, his friend Salam as well as the stormy Catherine were all absent.

The lively atmosphere they had at dinner seems so far, now. Virginie could feel the dowager countess' melancholy. She had dressed with care wanting to welcome Kalaan with honor. As for Isabelle, she fingered her beautiful pearl necklace and smiled thoughtfully at the seat that had been Salam's at the earlier meal. Tonight, at the table, there was sadness, daydreaming, and restlessness. For Virginie was not tired, as she said, she was restless. She could not stop thinking about Catherine, their strange conversation at the broken circle, the legend and the hasty return to the castle.

If only it had stopped there, but Virginie wanted to understand the empty feeling she had when Catherine left her, abandoned in front of the castle, and strode off, to...who knows where. What in heaven's name is wrong with you? She asked herself, sighing with exasperation.

"Thank you, Clovis, " Amélie said to the butler who was signaling the servants to clear the table.

"We will keep the supper warm for the count and his guests, " he said as he pulled out Amélie's chair for her to stand up. As she left the table, followed by Isabelle and Virginie, she asked Clovis to bring them some chamomile tea in the next room.

The three women went into the drawing room through a communicating door, their skirts rustling as they moved. They took their seats in what seemed to be their attributed places, the wing chairs and the banquette. Virginie actually detested chamomile tea, and would have preferred something stronger, but she was too polite to ask.

Often, the evenings with her father would end with long conversations over a snifter of good old Hennessy cognac. Josephe de Macy used to repeat the famous quote about that particular brand, which Talleyrand is supposed to have said: "We bring it to our noses and breathe in. Then, dear sir, we put the glass down and we talk." Papa… no, don't think about him now. Virginie chided herself and clenched her teeth holding back her desire to cry, as she took her seat in one of the wing chairs.

Tomorrow, with any luck, there would be a letter for her from the detective she hired after her father's brutal death. She'd been waiting for news for so long her nerves were wound up like a spring. Add to this, the troubling feelings she had thinking of Catherine …Oh yes! She did need something stronger than an herbal tea!

"If you please, do you think I could possibly have a cognac?"

Amélie and Isabelle, both surprised, looked at her in astonishment, but then, the younger of the two friends, smiled and asked her mother for one too.

"We should celebrate Kalaan's return after all, shouldn't we?" Isabelle, said, in good spirits. After Amélie gave her permission, Clovis prepared the drinks.

Oh, no, don't talk to me about Kalaan! thought Virginie, before she thanked Clovis and had a long drink of the alcohol.

"My, but you were thirsty!" Isabelle winked and said gently teasing her friend.

"Um...yes, I suppose so…" Virginie nervously cleared her throat.

"Could it be our dear Catherine who has put you such a state of anxiety? Was she rude with you?" Amélie was worried for her young guest.

"Not in the least!" Virginie exclaimed before continuing in a calmer voice. "Quite the opposite, in fact. She was very charming. She told me about the legend of the broken circle and we also spoke about her father, Diogenes."

Isabelle nearly spit out the cognac she had in her mouth and Clovis dropped the silver tray noisily on the floor. The butler looked at Virginie as if she had just uttered the worst possible insult and Amélie brought her hand to her throat and stared wide-eyed at her.

"What did I say?" Virginie sat up in her wing chair and put her snifter down on the small table.

"Please forgive me, Madame." Clovis' voice was almost a whisper as he picked up the tray. Isabelle simply sipped her cognac, with a mysteriously impish attitude.

"That's quite alright, you may go now, " Amélie said to the butler, reassuringly.

"Thank you Madame."

"Oh, " Amélie added, "And please inform the staff that they can move back into the castle tomorrow. The repairs to the roof have been completed."

"That is very good news, Madame. Good evening Madame."

A moment later, the butler was gone, but not before giving Virginie one last strange look.

"Diogenes, then?" Isabelle asked, no longer capable of holding back her laughter.

"Yes, Catherine's father." Virginie repeated, with a puzzled frown.

"Pay no attention to my daughter, " Amélie said, giving Isabelle a dark threatening look. "Di…Diogenes is a unique man, " she added, stammering a little as if she found it difficult to talk.

"Yes, we could say that." Isabelle was enjoying herself far too much to heed her mother's silent warnings. "He certainly had a unique nose... for business."

"Isabelle?"

"Yes mother?"

"To your room, at once!"

"With pleasure."

Isabelle kissed Amélie on the cheek and warmly wished her friend a good night before running out of the room. Moments

ing between them. Kalaan had already felt this when they were in the broken circle, hand in hand at the edge of the cliff. At that moment he felt they were united as one and were invulnerable. Whenever they were together, Kalaan felt that nothing bad could happen.

Worried about where his ruminations could lead him, his face darkened and he tried to shake off his strange thoughts. Virginie was of absolutely no help, biting her raspberry pink heart shaped lips that way.

Kalaan sat up, unconsciously, most likely with the intention of tasting the voluptuous fruit presented to him. But Virginie was faster and quickly took shelter by sitting as far back as possible in her chair as if the table between them wasn't enough of an obstacle. She needed more distance between them. Heavens! Did he want to kiss me? She wondered, her heart pounding in her chest again.

"I... I.. 'tis very late and... I..." stammering, again, Virginie put her hand in front of her mouth as if to hide a yawn. "I wish you a good night."

She quickly retreated, but when she arrived at the door, she turned around before opening it, only to find herself with her nose in the count's ruffle shirt, his entrancing musky fragrance penetrating her nostrils. He was standing far too close!

"Sweet dreams, " he murmured leaning towards her, his sweet breath caressing her cheek as he spoke, his eyes never leaving her lips.

"Yes, of course!" she replied as she moved quickly towards the hall and ran up the stairs to her room, locking the door behind her.

Did I really say 'Yes, of course?' she asked herself hitting her forehead with the palm of her hand. What a halfwit I am! He was going to kiss her, Virginie was sure of it! She had dreamed of this for so many years, and when the moment finally came she left him high and dry, running away like a frightened little mouse.

Without Gwendoline to help her, it took Virginie an eternity to undo her gown and, even longer, the corset, tied at the back. She then washed her face, brushed and braided her hair, and went to bed hoping that sleep would quickly take her in its arms. But it was not to be…

She tossed and turned under the bedcovers, sometimes even lying across the bed. She could not seem to find a comfortable position. Too much fatigue and too many emotions kept sleep at bay.

As dawn began to arrive, it timidly lit Virginie's room slowly, and gently. She grumpily pulled herself out of bed, pulled on her dressing gown and walked over to stand at the window.

A tall shape, moving quickly in the park, caught her attention. Curious, yet not wishing to be seen, she hid behind the curtains to spy on the person, now approaching the castle walls.

It was Catherine, wearing the same men's clothes as the day before, and her jet-black hair flowing down her back. But where could she be coming from so early in the morning? She raised her eyes towards the window of the room next door as if judging its height. The next minute the wildcat was climbing the wall with impressive agility, making good use of the cracks between the stones.

Virginie, whose nose was right against the window, lost sight of her so she quietly opened her window leaning out just in time to see Catherine pull herself into the next room, her booted legs disappearing in a wink of an eye.

She hadn't spent the night in the castle! The young cousin was truly a mystery. Who had she been with? Virginie realized that the whole scene greatly annoyed her. In fact, she was feeling something very similar to jealousy. But why? After all, Catherine had the right to do as she pleased, with whom she pleased!

This was one more event to add to the long list of all the others now preoccupying the young woman and poisoning her existence.

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