Phryne threw off the silk comforter in frustration. It was the middle of the night; the streets of St. Kilda were quiet and dark. The house was quiet as well; even Ember, the black cat, was sound asleep on the pillow beside her without even the ghost of a purr.
Sitting up, Phryne was inclined to blame her sleeplessness on the absence of her lover. Lin Chung was in Castlemaine, seeing to his family’s business at their farm, and Phryne’s bed was regrettably quite empty. It was the easiest, most comfortable explanation for her insomnia and she wished she could believe it but Phryne had never been in the habit of lying to herself and wasn’t about to start.
She slid out of bed, careful not to disturb the slumbering cat, and slipped a deep red robe patterned with gold dragons over her shoulders. Not wanting to disturb the rest of the household, she stole silently downstairs to the sea-green parlour. She quietly poured herself a glass of excellent port and sunk into a luxuriously cushioned chair.
Phryne knew perfectly well why she couldn’t sleep as she sipped her drink and cursed René Dubois, may he rot in hell, and not for the first time.
It was finding Véronique Dubois, previously Sarcelle, bound and beaten in that awful hovel and that kept her awake. When Phryne knew her, Madame Véronique had been a strong woman but look at what happened to her, reduced to a beaten, frightened shadow of herself by a man she’d warned Phryne over and over again was no good.
That was what prevented Phryne from sleep; that sliver of horror that she could end up so far under someone else’s power that she would endure any degree of abuse and humiliation just to stay with him. She, who’d struck out on her own to join an ambulance unit in the War; she, who’d refused to come home when her father ordered it; she, who prided herself on her independence, had come within a hair’s breadth of being the thrall of a ruthless, insanely jealous, fascinating, petty man like René Dubois. After he’d shown her his true colours, would she have stayed away if it hadn’t been for the support of her friends at Toupie’s? Or, if they hadn’t taken her in and given her their unconditional friendship and support, would she have crawled back to him, to his charm and good looks, forgetting what he was truly capable of until the next time?
Then she abruptly drained her glass. Never. That would never happen to her. She’d walked away from René back in Montparnasse when he treated her like a whore; she chose her lovers freely, not beholden to any of them but by mutual pleasure and respect. I know my place, she’d told him back in the apartment they’d shared, and she did; her place was her own, she was her own woman and no one could take that away from her.
With that certainty, Phryne rose gracefully to her feet. She ascended the stairs, settled herself back under the covers, eliciting a sleepy protest from Ember. Lying her head on the pillow beside him, her mind at peace, it wasn’t long before she finally fell into a sweet, dreamless sleep.