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Bottled Memories

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Chapter I: First Impressions

For as long as she could remember, Belle French had longed for adventures.

Growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Belle believed she had a fairly normal childhood. Her parents were a writing and illustration team who wrote a series of children’s books about the adventures of a tempestuous goblin and his human assistant. While the books had not given the French family financial security; they allowed Belle to spend her free time either reading her books or enjoy her hobby of photography in the hopes she would one day be able to tell stories of their own.

However, shortly after her sixteenth birthday, tragedy struck. Belle lost her mother to a terminal illness, her father followed nearly two years to the day after of her mother’s passing. People in their circle of acquaintances whispered that Maurice French had died of a broken heart.

Alone in the world with few financial prospects, Belle decided to pack her bags and head to Europe, fulfilling  her dream of seeing the world.

Two months into her travels, Belle answered an ad from an American socialite named Cora Mills. An older woman, Ms. Mills wanted a paid companion to accompany her throughout her travels. Belle happily complied with the job as it meant free room and board, a steady salary and learning how to become a proper lady through her interactions with societal matriarchs.

The only downside to the position had been Cora Mills: her idea of a paid companion meant a secretary at best and a personal maid at worst. Belle’s duties involved answering the mail, dressing Cora, scheduling appointments and making sure her life ran smoothly. Essentially, Cora treated Belle as nothing more than a servant occasionally reminding her friends that she was an absolute saint for taking a stray under her wing.

“Perhaps” she said, “Belle would one day become a proper society butterfly under my excellent tutelage.”

Nevertheless, the perks of the job outweighed any personal humiliation Belle endured. Service to Cora offered a decent wage, the ability to see Europe, (even if most of her sightseeing happened form inside a drawing room) and access to high end dress shops and expensive restaurants (only at Cora’s discretion). But the position also meant free-range for Belle to go about her life when her presence was not requested.

On their current trip to Monte Carlo, Cora was spending the afternoon playing at the casinos giving Belle the opportunity to visit the sights. Her planning lead to the hiking trails near the alps and she spent hours taking allowing her to spend time taking photos throughout the terrains of Mont Agel. She could hear the waves not too far into the distance where each step the trees became replaced with shrubs connected to the jagged rocks. The trail was not as steep as she had expected where Belle had mentally thanked herself for deciding to wear comfortable footwear for hiking rather than her usual dress shoes that made her appear at least six inches taller. Belle continued walking and taking photos until she approached the precipice, a man stood on the rough outcropping of jagged rocks, skirting treacherously close the edge.

“No stop!” shouted Belle without hesitation. Startled, the man turned towards her. Picking through the rocks, Belle approached him quickly, her senses on high alert.

“What the devil are you shouting about?” He is tone was sharp, but his eyes were sad and lost. Belle crept closer, hoping she wouldn’t startle him. He did not dress as though he was going for a hike, his attire was more business oriented, further alarming her.

“Who are you? What are you staring at?” Still staring at her, the man backed away from the precipice, now towering above her with a thunderous expression on his face.

Belle felt her cheek redden, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. I only thought…” she pointed toward the cliff, and the man backed further away from her, an annoyed expression on his handsome face.

“Oh you did, did you?” the man barked. What are you doing here?”

She could see his hands were shaking. Clearly, he wanted to be left alone. “I was only walking.” She said defensively.

He calmed visibly, then snapped. “Well then go about your walking, don’t go about screaming.”

Belle complied as she left, turning to find the man rooting to the spot, still staring at her. “If it helps, the high tide won’t come into the beach until next week,” she offered, trying not to make the situation any more awkward.

He looked at her ferociously, and Belle was inclined to cower. Why she scolded herself, did she always open her mouth at the worst moments?

She could not help but smile at the back of him as he stabbed the ground with his cane walking the opposite direction she had come from. She continued to watch after him until he disappeared from her sight. The idea that she’d saved him from certain death gave her a sense of accomplishment as she walked back down the trail and through town trail until she found a bus stop.

You likely hate me now, sir but one day, you will be thanking me….

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The hushed atmosphere at the hotel Cote d’Azur was to be expected during the off season. Belle sat by the sofa near the lobby trying to multitask between reading her book while being alert at Cora’s demands as they were playing one of Cora’s favourite pastimes. This involved Cora sitting in the lobby and waiting to see someone who deemed as important, meaning recognizable “someone” from the society papers. Afterwards, she would request Belle to collect an item from their suite as a means in making their acquaintance. Throughout her time in working for Cora, this practice would mainly leave Belle shocked and embarrassed for her employer as Cora’s snobbery resulted in her acquaintances laughing behind her back or giving Belle looks of pity. But she endured the scorn without comment, as she would receive abuse from her employer if she didn’t obey her instructions to the letter.

At times Belle wondered how was it possible Cora never been put in her place by any of her acquaintances or even by her daughter, Regina. Cora would go on about her disappointment in Regina due to her tastes in partners or lifestyle, she said they were a disgrace to her noble blood. She assumed that Regina and Cora resided in different parts of the world so that Regina could live her life without her mother constantly berating her about not being the perfect daughter.

Should Belle ever get a chance to meet Regina, she wanted to proclaim this woman as her hero.

Belle and Cora were in the lobby enjoying their coffee before retiring for the evening. Belle was amazed that Cora had not yet insulted her this evening, but rather allowed her to read her book in peace.

Her thoughts crept back to the gentleman from earlier. She hoped he hadn’t decided to the edge of the cliff after she had left. He seemed determined to be left alone, but that purpose would have been defeated if his body is ashore within the next few days. Perhaps he hadn’t been serious in his endeavor at least, that was what Belle wanted to believe.

“Such dreadful stuff! Belle, go tell that waiter our coffee is completely cold! What do they think I’m paying to be at this hotel for if the simplest luxuries can’t even be at comfortable standards.” Cora tossed her cup towards the table, then fumbled in her small purse for a cigarette.

“Yes Mrs. Mills” Belle looked up to see the gentleman from earlier heading out of the elevator.

He was still dressed in a three piece suit. Had he changed his tie? He looked straight at her, his eyes wide with disbelief. Belle smiling back at him.

“Oh my word, that’s Robert Gold.” Cora said.

Belle turned back to her employer and stared.

“You know the one who owns Eurwyn? The big castle in Scotland. I’m sure you have heard of it.”

Before Belle knew it, Mr. Gold was approaching them. Belle noticed Cora becoming increasingly charming, patting her hair and smirking. Embarrassed for their guest, Belle cringed, He was heading straight into Cora’s trap.  

“Why Robert it’s a pleasure to see you again, and in Monte of all places. I trust you are in a good health?” She left Gold no choice but to kiss it. Belle began to wave her arms at him in an effort to warn him to quickly leave.

“Thank you for your concern Cora, it has been far too long. How are your husband and daughter getting along?” he asked.

“I’m afraid dear Henry passed on two years ago, heart attack in his sleep. Can you believe it? Although Regina is doing fairly well, the wretched girl lives in New York now. She was off conquering Wall Street last I remember. Do sit down and join me for coffee. Belle, go tell that stupid waiter to bring a hot pot”

Belle complied, standing up but Gold stood up at the same time causing her to sit back down. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken; let me invite the both of you.”

He ordered a new tray. They sat down with Cora attempting to be flirtatious in a unsubtle matter as she leaned forward to refill her cup, giving Gold a good view of her cleavage. Belle was horrified at the display and tried her best to focusing on her book, waiting for Cora decided to dismiss her for the evening. She tried to drown out the conversation with her book, but she kept getting sidetracked by the low timbre of Mr. Gold’s voice.

“Is the book quite interesting?”

“Belle, Mr. Gold just asked you a question…” Cora snapped.

Belle startled at the sound of her voice. Cora looked annoyed but Mr. Gold’s smile was warm and friendly. His kind brown eyes weren’t frightening at all, in fact, they put her quite at ease.

 “Uh…somewhat, it’s currently becoming frustrating to root for the heroine; the decisions she makes defy logic.” Nervously smiling, Belle placed her book to the side taking another sip of her coffee.

“Yes I can understand. I take it you like to read, miss?”

Cora cut her off before she could respond. “Belle is a complete bookworm, sometimes I have a hard time getting her attention. I keep trying to tell her that girl her age should be out enjoying herself rather than spending all her time indoors.”

Cora gave Belle a malicious smile, then placed her hand over Mr. Gold’s. “I hope they’ve given you a good room, the place is half empty so if you are uncomfortable mind you only need to make a fuss. You valet has unpacked for you I suppose?”

Never has Belle seen Cora been this brazen when making an acquaintance, she was bordering on the lines of becoming too inappropriate. She looked at Mr. Gold for a reaction.

“I don’t possess one,” he said quietly, “perhaps you would like to do it for me?”

He pulled his hand away from hers. Cora gasped and Belle suppressed the urge to giggle.

Cora laughed awkwardly “Why I hardly think….” Turning her attention towards Belle, “Perhaps you could make yourself useful to Mr. Gold, if he wants anything done. You’re capable child in many ways”

Stricken, Belle looked back at Mr. Gold.

“A charming suggestion,” he said, smirking, “but I cling to the family motto. He travels the fastest travels alone. Perhaps you have not heard of it.”

Without waiting for a response, Gold left heading towards the lobby door.

Belle looked at Cora, suspecting her to drop her jaw in outrage at any moment. The ladies gathered their belongings and headed back to their room.

“Do you suppose that sudden departure was a form of humor?” They walked from the lift towards the suite. “By the way dear” she said as Belle began opened her bedroom door, “I don’t think I mean to be unkind, but you put yourself just a teeny bit forward with Robert. Your efforts to monopolize the conversation quite embarrassed me and I’m sure it did him. Men loathe that sort of thing.”

Belle froze unable to speak. There was nothing she could say without effectively placing some of the blame on Cora.

“Oh come, don’t sulk.” Cora laughed shrugged her shoulders. “After all, I am responsible for your behavior and surely you can accept advice from a woman old enough to be your mother.”

“Yes Mrs. Mills”

“He looked ill didn’t he?”

Belle turned back towards her employer, unsure what to say. She assumed Cora had not paid attention to her and was thinking out loud. “Of course it has been a few years since I last saw him, but it seems he must have not gotten over his wife’s death.”

Chapter Text

It was a quarter to nine before Belle finished her morning duties, dreading the moment when Mrs. Mills would ring her for assistance with dressing. Replying to invitations were always the most grueling task for Belle as Cora would sometimes become frustrated when Belle would throw away an invite that on a previous occasion Cora would have considered unworthy. During those occasions, Cora would carefully explain to her as though she were a child the importance in accepting this specific invitation at a specific moment as to further her social status. To Belle’s relief, there were only two invites which she was sure Cora would accept, but what had caught her eye was an unstamped letter addressed to her. She opened it to find a few words scrawled in an unfamiliar hand

“Forgive me. I was very rude last night.”

That was all. No signature, and no salutation, but Belle noticed the seal on the envelope to be of the hotel’s, giving her an idea who it was even though she believed Mr. Gold had behaved perfectly reasonable given the circumstances. She put the apology aside, placing the letter into her pocket while continuing her chores.

Cora woke half an hour later and informed Belle her services were not required until the evening as she was expected for a hair appointment and tea with Mademoiselle Coeur. Belle happily accepted the order and headed downstairs to the dining room trying her best not to appear out of place since her plain blue sun dress was not to the dress code of the restaurant. People were staring straight at her where she began to think that the older group of women not three tables in front of her were talking about her and to make matters worse, as Belle sat down, she had not noticed her surroundings and her elbow hit the vase full of flowers decorating the center of the table. Causing the vase to fall towards the table spilling the water soaked into the cloth and dripped onto the floor. Causing the vase to fall towards the table spilling the water into the cloth on the floor.

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.” She told the waiter. At that moment, Belle wanted to hide into the corner and die; perhaps her remains could be placed into the furthest point on earth. She fervently apologized as she and the waiter cleaned up the mess until she felt a hand brushed up against her shoulder. She turned around to find Mr. Gold behind her.

“You can’t sit at a wet tablecloth, it will put you off your food.” he said casually. “Garcon,” he turned towards the waiter, “Put another place on my table; Mademoiselle will dine with me.”

“Oh no, it’s alright.” She continued dabbing up the water. “They only need to change the cloth, not to worry.” Belle began to wonder if it was possible for lightening to strike her. Anything to escape this embarrassment.

“I wasn’t being polite; I would have invited you to dine with me even if you haven’t knocked over the so clumsily. Come along, we don’t have to talk to each other if you don’t want to.”

“That’s very kind, thank you.” Belle nervously stated sitting down as Mr. Gold followed suit. They ordered their meals trying their best not to notice the other while Belle fiddled with the buttons of her camera standing on the edge of the table.

“Did you receive my letter?” Mr. Gold asked catching Belle’s attention.

“Oh….yes I did, thank you. Although it was not necessary, I got the impression you simply wanted to be alone and we had interrupted you.”

“Nevertheless, I’m afraid the best excuse I can come up with is I have become rather boorish after living alone for so long.” He smiled back at her and Belle’s face flushed.

“In that case I accept your apology. To be honest, I must apologize for the behavior of Mrs. Mills, you see she’s been a widow for a while and tends to forget herself”

Mr. Gold interrupted. “Even when her husband was still alive, Cora was always forward. Her family has been part of my acquaintance for many years and I happened to know her daughter would do just about anything to get away from her. Tell me, what is your connection to Mrs. Mills? Is she your aunt by any chance?”

“Oh no, she’s my employer. I’m what is known as a paid companion.”

Mr. Gold rolled his eyes and Belle looked down at her drink.

“Normally the idea of paying for companionship seems absurd, but Cora is someone who I can honestly believe would purchase it.” Gold bit out.

Belle felt a sudden need to defend her employer.

“Regardless, she is very kind to me. You see Mrs. Mills believes her mentorship can help me move up in the world and I have been fortunate in following my dreams to see the continent, although it is not exactly what I had hoped. We mainly being in places Mrs. Mills prefers.”

“Pardon my intrusion Miss French, but haven’t you any family?” he asked

Belle’s smile quickly faded. “My mother died when I was sixteen and my father shortly after I finished prep school. I didn’t know were to turn as home was no longer an option, I took this job nearly a year ago for a fresh start.”

“I am sure your parents would be proud of you for being so brave in going to the other side of the world by yourself at such a young age. It appears even giving you such an unusual name has worked in your favor.”

Belle giggled. “It was my father’s idea to name me; he was such an unusual person.”

“What was he?”

“A painter,” she pronounced proudly

“And was he a good one?” He leaned towards her

“I thought so but most people had a different opinion. He mainly worked with my mother in writing children stories but his passion was drawing trees and flowers. He had this theory where if you find a person, place, or thing you really love, then you should stick with it.” She laughed nervously. “Seems rather silly doesn’t it?”

“I don’t believe so, those sounds like words to live by.” Their food arrived and Mr. Gold noticed her camera. “If you would like, I can take you wherever you want to do your photography. After lunch, perhaps?”

Belle eyes widened as she took a bit of her eggs. “I couldn’t intrude; surely you must have plans of your own.”

It was Mr. Gold’s turn to laugh. “Nonsense, it would be my pleasure. Now finish up quickly like a good girl and we will head to my car as soon as possible.”

Belle quickly complied as they finished their meals they disused the places they wanted to go, ultimately deciding to drive up towards Monaco City. Belle unable to suppress her happiness; Monaco City was one of the places she hoped to visit on her trip to Europe. Belle believed the time had flown by when they had made it but she suspected this mainly had to do with the fact the pair spent most of the drive arguing over which radio stations to listen.

Mr. Gold revealed himself to be a fan of classical music while Belle was a Jazz aficionado.  Gold found hilarious as he jokingly said she was committing blasphemy to his ears when she changed the station and belted out Louie Armstrong songs in a voice that was woefully out of tune.

“We’re finally here,” Gold blurted relieved  she had finally stopped singing when Belle quickly became overwhelmed with joy at the thought they were in the older part of Monaco. As soon as Mr. Gold parked the car towards the Monaco Rock, Belle began to bombard him with flashes from her camera as her excitement was unable to be contained when she got out of the car.

“Come on, let’s go!” Belle dragged him out of the car an, Mr. Gold quickly followed her when Belle puled short, suddenly remembered he needed to get his cane in order to keep up. “Oh I am deeply sorry, I had forgotten…”

“Forgotten what, dearie?” He looked at her with a manner of annoyance almost as if he was daring for her to point out his cane.

Belle took a deep breath and slowed her pace as they began to walk towards the higher ends of the jagged ground. To ease the tension between them, Belle began getting her film ready carefully explaining to him the right angles and lighting to use while taking photographs at the main city square.  

“I could use a model for some of the photographs since it can be boring taking only scenery shots.” Flashing the lens towards Gold’s face she pretended to press the shutter acting as though she were a news reporter.

Gold complied with her request in which she began placing him in several spots each time explaining something about the lighting or the shutter being out of order whenever he would complain if the shot was taking too long. She decided it was best not to tell him about the few instances were she took his photo while not being aware since it captured when Belle at his most natural state.

Eventually Belle decided she no longer needed a human model leaving Mr. Gold to look around waiting for Belle to capture some of the remaining scenery. Eventually she took out her sketchbook and began drawing in a pencil the same flowers she had only taken a photo of not a few minutes ago. What caught his eyes were the drawings pertaining to some of the background they had passed along the drive there.

“It seems some of your father’s talents rubbed off on you, my little Atget.”

From that response, Belle immediately closed her sketchbook hiding it behind her back placing her head down. “I’m not that good; it turned out my film canister is running low and I only began to indulge a little.”

“Come on; let’s have a look at it. From the way you were so focus, I expect a great work of art.” He leaned closer to get a glance at her sketchbook and Belle snapped the book closed and crossed her arms.

“It’s not finished, yet and I really am not very good,” she pleaded softly.

“It can’t be as bad as all that, perhaps one day I will torment you with my poor attempts at pianoforte.” He coaxed.

Still unsure, Belle slowly opened the book and turned the page towards Gold tilting her head away as Gold examined the sketch. In his attempt at surprising her, he had not noticed she was sketching his portrait where the technique left a little to be desired as his eyes too expressive where they could have been confused for a demon. “I had not realized my ears were this pointed, I would weep at the idea of being mistaken for a fairy.” He began to place his hands over his back as he circled around. “Although it appears my wings might have been taken away by the head fairy for my dastardly deeds.”

That got her to giggle, and she taking back the sketchbook. “Well you are not an easy subject to do. It’s mainly because your expressions keep changing. As I said before, I am not so good at sketching and people are even trickier.”

“Then I suggest you should stick to sketching the scenery in order to improve.” He walked over towards the side looking at the city below as it had a view towards the Mediterranean. “The coasts here remind me of the view back home, but with less fog. Tell me, have you ever been to Scotland?”

“Once, when I was twelve on holiday with my parents. We stopped by this little village outside Edinburgh where I remember walking by this souvenir shop and the first item to have caught my eye was a postcard of beautiful castle by the sea. I asked the shopkeeper what was the name of the castle and she said ‘that’s Eurwyn” I felt ashamed not knowing it.”

“Eurwyn’s is beautiful, to me it’s the place I was born and lived in all my life. I don’t suppose I shall ever see it again.”

Belle wasn’t sure how to take his words, and when his mood became somber, she quickly changed the subject.

“I haven’t been too keen on the beaches in Britain because of the cold weather.” Belle said, tryng to break the strained silence.

He smiled at her remark allowing Belle to carry on the conversation with ease.

“The water here is much warmer though even back home there was always an excuse to go bathing, you can just lie on the water for hours.” She continued. There have been a few accidents causing the beaches to be closed down. One such incident involved a man who drowned on his boat last summer during the Australia Day celebrations. The beach closed down for nearly a week! I’ve never been afraid of drowning, have you?” Belle turned around finding Mr. Gold was no longer next to her but on the other side of the rock. His back was towards and he speared to be lost in the view in front of him.

“Come, I’ll take you home.” He said.

Quickly he headed to the car leaving Belle to wonder what brought this change of mood.

The ride back to the hotel was a somber affair this time as neither spoke. Occasionally, Belle darted an anxious glanced at Mr. Gold but he was fixated on the road and paid no attention to her whatsoever. He dropped her off at the lobby without a world of good bye, leaving Belle both astonished and embarrassed.

He must have been so bored with me, no that I blame him. I am such an idiot. The only good out of this was that Mrs. Mills wasn’t with us or I would have never heard the end of it from her.

Shoulders slumped, Belle boarded the elevator then slowly walked down the hallway to their suite. Checking her watch, she knew Cora would probably either getting ready for a party or in the process of leaving which meant she wasn’t sure how the rest of the evening of the would go. When she opened the door, Belle found Cora still in her cardinal satin robe, shoes in place, brown hair cascading down. She was seated on her vanity trying to apply makeup with a martini in hand.

“Oh there you are; it’s about time,” she said looking at Belle’s reflection through the mirror.  “I need you to hurry, I am expected at the Gala in less than an hour. Please get my dress off the hanger,” Cora concentrated on perfecting her lipstick.

“Yes Mrs. Mills” Belle went to the closet door choosing to ignore her employer’s sudden coughing fits. She found the requested dress: a dark red silhouette gown with a mermaid scoop neck and a train cascading towards a ruffle outline. The dress was more sensible that what Cora normally chose; for once she had selected a gown that was age-appropriate, instead of something for a woman twenty years her junior. Belle handed the gown to her employer who raised her eyebrow to indicate the rest of her job had not been done yet. She gathered the zipper on the dress and began getting Cora ready for the party.

“Do you think I should send Robert an invitation to come as a guest? The poor man must be so bored alone in that hotel room.” Cora said.

Belle stood silent as she brushed Cora’s hair, only half paying attention to the conversation.

Cora looked at back at Belle with an annoyed expression then proceeded to gather her earrings. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember Mr. Gold from last night.”

“Yes Mrs. Mills I remember him, but I don’t believe he would be in the mood to be entertained. You said so yourself last night, he appeared to be rather foul. Also, if the party is in an hour, then it wouldn’t work for him to respond and get ready since Gala events are invitation only.”

Rolling her eyes, Cora lapsed into silence, as Belle arranged her hair.

A few minutes later she said, “I can always invite him for drinks tomorrow. It has been four years; then again Robert was always too much in love with his wife. Milah drowned in a tragic accident along the coastline close to their estate. After it happened, the man turned into a veritable social recluse.

“Drowned?” Belle felt sick as she pondered the afternoon’s events. Suddenly she realized why he was upset. Oh my goodness, he must have been thinking about this wife the entire time. At this rate, I need to be given the most inconsiderate person award.

“I remember when Henry and I went to the funeral,” Cora droned on, “Robert was absolutely devastated to the point where his son demanded the wake be cut short because his father was too exhausted.”

With the last of the laces tied and Cora’s hair arranged in an elegant chignon, she gathered her black fur coat and red purse heading towards the door. “I am not sure what time I will be back but I will expect my breakfast and at least two pills in the morning.” Cora cleared her throat and Belle offered her a handkerchief. Cora ignored her and departed, closing the door behind her.

With the suite now silent, Belle headed towards her bedroom and got ready for bed with the day’s events still plaguing her thoughts.

Robert was always too much in love with his wife.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until one in the morning Belle woke up to find Cora staggering back into the suite.

Belle assumed her employer had too much to drink, until morning when she was summoned to help Cora dress. Her cheeks were mottled and her eyes overly bright. Suspicious, Belle laid a hand on Cora’s forehead; she was burning with fever.

For the remainder of the day, Belle kept Cora comfortable, insisting she stay in bed. She cancelled appointments and brought her cup after cup of tea. Cora was delirious and she would rant and scream that Belle was ruining her life by forcing her to stay in bed. Belle snickered behind her hand.  Eventually, Belle even removed the phone from Cora’s bedside. She was so desperate to talk to people that she called her friends and talked herself hoarse.

Cora proved herself to be a terrible patient leaving Belle completely exhausted when performing her usual tasks which sometimes were left unfinished leaving Cora more impatient and calling the hotel to hire a nurse for her. Belle though the problem was solved, but then she woke up to Cora’s complaints to the nurse: her medication had to be at higher dose, her pillows weren’t fluffy enough.

Deciding to take advantage of the vacation and escape while she could, Belle quickly got ready for the day. As she zipped up her skirt, she looked at her reflection through the window viewing the coast several miles away.

There was a knock at the door as Belle slipped on her shoes. It was the nurse, a middle aged redhead who was about the same height as her. “Excusez-moi mademoiselle but Madame Mills has been placed to sleep where you are not needed for ze day.”

Belle had not wanted to appeared thrilled about a confirmation towards an off day but at least she was happy to know there would have been a last minute message for her while she was out.” “O-oh…...okay, thank you.” Nodding back to the nurse, Belle closed the door smiling when she stared at coastline, giving herself an idea, she removed her emerald sweater heading back into her wardrobe.  

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Belle headed towards the hotel lobby replacing her emerald sweater and grey skirt for a light blue coverup and large brown sunhat with a white bow decorated towards the side and white flats. The weather had been as sunny as she had suspected. She took a deep breath and strolled in the direction of the bus stop, startled when she heard honking behind her.

“How is our paid companion doing this morning?” Belle turned around seeing Mr. Gold in driving his car this time with the top down. She waved heading closer to the car.

“Relieved of my duties for the time being, Mrs. Mills is in bed with the flu being and cared for by a nurse. I thought it would be the perfect time to go to the beach.” She smiled back at him.

“Not a bad idea, get in.” He reached across the seat to opened the latch on the passenger side. Belle had not thought twice before getting into the car and closing the latch.

As he began driving, Belle looked at her clothing in contrast to his, wondering how he was going to the beach in a three piece suit. Suddenly she remembered their last encounter.

“Mr. Gold, about what happened the other night, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.” She turned away not wanting to see his reaction.

He raised his eyebrow causing his face to change his expression, “What happened the other night?”

Trying to regain her footing, she said, “You seemed upset when we cut the daytrip short a bit early and I thought it must have been something that I said.”

They stared at one another then Mr. Gold looked around then and shrugged. “You did nothing wrong my dear.  The fresh air was too much for me causing a migraine. Luckily for the both of us, I had not caught the flu your Mrs. Mills is currently suffering from.”

“Still, I am glad you are okay.” She replied, regaining her speech. “I think you would have gone mad had I been instructed to see to your health.

“Ah to be a nursed by a beautiful woman.” He winked. “Unfortunately, I must rely on the seawater as an alternative.

Please don’t tease me sir, I am not now nor have I ever been considered beautiful. “When that does happen, I will be sure to ask the hotel to find you such a beautiful nurse,” she responded.

“Are you actually offering to consider Mrs. Mills offer in becoming my personal valet? I might actually plan on becoming under the weather.” Gold looked back at her but Belle tried not to be appear nervous as he said nothing.

They managed to find a spot away from most of the crowd, close to a cove that gave a good sound of the echoes coming from the waves of the ocean. Belle gathered her blanket but Gold took it from her. He smoothed it out for her, then placing her bag onto their spot to keep the breeze from blowing the blanket away.

“Did you ever get those photos developed? I was very much looking forward to seeing them.” Gold froze when he saw a flash; he turned to find it Belle turning her camera towards him taking another shot this time at some of the rocks nearby.

“I haven’t had time to get them developed.” She placed her camera back onto her bag and sat down on the blanket next to her companion. “When they are done, you will be the first one to see them.” She smiled.

Gold leaned closer taking a bit of her hair and wrapping the strands on his finger. “Looking forward to it.” he whispered, then tucking the curl behind her ear.

Belle’s stomach twisted into knots as she stared into Mr. Gold’s honey coloured eyes, there was something about them she couldn’t put her finger on. He only gave her a small smile followed by a light sigh. They slowly leaned toward each other, until their attention became diverged to a beach ball landing between them.

A group of young children ran toward them, calling out for their ball. Belle gladly rolled it over to them, then one of the girls, a little girl of four or five with brown hair and green eyes handed Belle a small purple brownish seashell.

“Do you want to come play with us?” the child asked Belle.

Belle looked at the children then Gold placed a hand over her shoulder. “Go play with them, I have to go to the car anyway.” Gold quickly got up tipping his hat towards the children and Belle; “Enjoy yourselves.” He waved towards the children.

Belle quickly took off her cover-up to reveal her red and white polka dotted, halter top, swimsuit and joined the children.

They played with the ball for a while turning it into a volleyball game. While the children varied in size, Belle made up for it by suggesting different games such as tag along the shallow parts of the water.

After a while, the kids were called by their parents and leaving Belle back onto her blanket seeing waving goodbye to the small crowd.

She checked her watch. It had been over an hour and she wondered what happened to Mr. Gold hoping he was alright. Perhaps he had gotten lost and unable to get back, or he had gotten himself into an accident? Or worse, what if he Mr. Gold had simply left her?  That last one became too absurd since he offered to join her in the first place.

Relax! He will be back. She decided to read one of her books to relax and started rummaging through her bag. She found a tattered copy of one of her favorite novels on the blanket and began reading.  

“Excuse me miss, but it doesn’t seem right for you to be yourself.” Belle noticed the shadow looming over. She shaded her eyes and looked up. His French was pitiful. He was handsome, she supposed, with an athletic build, roughly her age with light brown hair and terrible tan  lines. Belle almost reached into her bag for her suntan lotion but it was too late, his skin was a streaky mix of red and brown.

Before Belle could say anything, the man sat down next to her and began to take a drink from a dark flask he kept in the pocket of his swim trunks. He offered her a swig but she politely declined. Smelling the odor of beer seemed to seep out of his skin and she wrinkled her nose in distaste.

“I appreciate the concern, but I’m actually fine fo—“

He interrupted, “Do you like crepes? I know this lovely little café close by that serves them at just the right temperature.”

He grabbed her shoulders clinging to her. Belle removed his hands, scooting over to the end of the blanket and scrambling to her feet.

“Listen, you seem like a nice person, but I would rather be alone right now if you don’t mind.” Belle hoped to let the man down easily, but the smell of the beer began to overwhelm her. She fought past a wave of nausea.

“You don’t have to be snobbish about it; I was only trying to be polite.” The man got up and tried to grab Belle’s hand again. She pulled away quickly, just as Mr. Gold returned with a satchel in hand.

Belle quickly noticed there was something off about her companion; his eyes appeared to honing in on the other man with a predatory instinct. She flinched, worried about what might happened. Even though Gold carried a cane, she suspected was not someone to be underestimated.

“I believe the lady said she wanted to be alone.” Gold spoke in French, his voice firm and clipped. He pointed his cane towards the neck of the other man, applying pressure to the windpipe. He started gagging as Gold pushed him further away. “Now, how about you be a gentleman and do as the lady requested?” he asked in a sinister tone.

The man nodded and immediately took off. Belle watched him stumble in the sand before he got up and ran further away. She nearly laughed, then turned to look at Gold. His entire demeanor had changed back into the posh gentleman.

Belle took the satchel away from Gold taking one of the several water bottles he had brought. “You didn’t have to do that, I was getting along rather well.”

“The boy was drunk and I could not stand idly and watch a lady’s virtue be compromised no matter the circumstances…”

She sat down and looked at her camera. She fiddled with the lens, trying not to give Mr. Gold the satisfaction of being right. “Still, I should let you know that I am perfectly capable of defending myself when the occasion calls for it.”

He smiled back at her again taking the camera from her hands and taking a picture of her sticking her tongue back at him. “I believe you will be more than capable when that moment occurs, my Leannan.”

She took a deep breath wanting to forget about the incident and focus on the nice day ahead of her. Since Mr. Gold had not brought a swimsuit of his own, he volunteered to stand by as she splashed in the water. Belle allowed the waves to blanket her until her hair became completely drenched with water and sand. After the water became too cold, Belle hurried back to their spot and wrapped herself in her cover up and a towel, She huddled against her companion, please that he didn’t seem to mind if his sports jacket was getting wet and covered with sand.

They stayed together, Belle’s head on his shoulder, and Bell began to drift to asleep as Gold’s long, warm fingers combed out her wet hair. Afterwards they headed to a café and ordered a huge soufflé, so hungry they ate it right out of the pan.

They drove back to the hotel this time arguing about over the top radio station to be played. At first Gold pointed out no one was allowed to touch is car until Belle pleaded for an opportunity to show her companion something new. This led Gold to relent leaving Belle to choose a station for the remainder of the evening until they arrived back parking towards the entrance of the hotel’.

“Well here we are; I’m sorry that I won’t be able to give you a proper music lesson tonight.”

Clever bastard, I will show him next time. “That’s all right” Belle said in a sweet tone. “Time clearly wasn’t on my side today.”

“I would still love to get a proper music lesson, let’s say tomorrow for lunch?” Now Belle became surprised as she was not expecting another date so quickly.

“I don’t know if I can get out of the hotel so easily tomorrow since Mrs. Mills has me at her beck and call….”

“You said so yourself she has a nurse helping her for the time being and it seems these of illnesses don’t go away after twenty-four hrs.” He placed his hand over hers, warm and slightly calloused and Belle blushed. “Let me see you again. Please say yes.” He raised her hand to his lips, his warm golden eyes never leaving hers.

Belle shivered and nodded. “All right.”

Sher breath quickened as he cupped her cheek; his fingers caressing her skin drawing her closer as he pressed his lips against hers.

Belle felt tingling sensation throughout her body. She leaned in closer and as the kiss deepened and lengthened her first kiss and Gold’s mouth unleashed desires she never knew existed. She craved more of his touch, even as he broke the kiss and slowly pulled away from her. Belle opened her eyes pleased that Gold was breathing as hard as she was. The intense hunger in his eyes made her shiver with longing.

Gold closed the distance between them again, this time placing a soft kiss on her cheek. “Tomorrow then Leannan” he whispered against her ear.

Belle gathered her items getting got out of the car and waving back.

She walked into the hotel lobby with a Chesire cat grin, bumping into at least three different people. She was blissfully unaware of her surroundings. She knew the patrons must have thought her mad, but all that mattered to her as she entered the elevator heading towards her suite, was that she had a lunch date the next with the wonderful Mr. Gold.