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A Bewildered Heart

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Sophie de Clermont danced in the ballrooms of Versailles. She played cards, gossiped, embroidered, took walks, went to church and discussed hair and gowns and accessories with her friends. Always smiling, the same shy smile and blushing cheeks of the innocent girl she had once been. She often felt the sweet face she saw in her mirror belonged to someone else, someone who still cared for little else than for the excitement over a new pair of shoes.

And while she spent her time like the other ladies of court, Sophie watched everyone around her. She watched the King, like they all did, but she also looked around, studying those who wanted the King to see them. The more she watched, the more she saw. The invisible threads of connections which made the court of Versailles a web of promises, lies and machinations unfolded in front of her eyes, and she was amazed how little she had noticed before. It intrigued her, and spurred her to find out more, feeling a secret joy when she made a new connection, or realised something no one else had noticed. She was among the first to realise Madame de Montespan was going to have a baby, and if anyone else than her knew the King sometimes slept with Mademoiselle des Œillets, then they kept quiet about it.

But then there was this one man no one observed but she. When Fabien Marchal walked through the crowds of the court, no one looked at him. The highborn lords and ladies moved away from him, parting like the Red Sea, while they averted their eyes. His attention was feared, and he walked unhindered, wrapped in silence. Only Sophie turned around to see him pass her as if she was only empty air.

On the surface very little had changed between them. Sophie was still summoned to give her reports, and nothing was said between them which touched anything else than the information she brought. But she no longer felt afraid he would throw her out on a whim. As long as she fulfilled her obligations, she was safe. And though Fabien was as brusque as ever when he spoke to her, he had stopped belittling her. She had also been given directions, of sorts, which was another change.

“You are friendly with Madame de Montespan. That’s good. I want you to keep yourself close to her and tell me everything she says.”

“Why? She is the King’s favourite.”

“For now. When her star fades, and it will, do you think she will go quietly?”

Sophie thought of Madame de Montespan’s ambition and how cruel her wit could sometimes be.

“I understand.”

It was not a difficult task to achieve. Madame de Montespan had always treated her with a somewhat disinterested kindness. She responded to Sophie’s seeming adoration with a place in her household. And as Sophie never vied for the King’s attention, Montespan enjoyed her company more and more. The King’s mistress was jealous, and it suited her to have ladies around who did not try to compete with her.

For Sophie life felt more secure, and as she grew more used to the changes of her situation, she relaxed a little. The habit of praying daily for Beatrice’s soul made the grief over her mother easier to manage. It was still hard to cope with the knowledge of who her mother had really been and what she had done, but she suspected she would find it hard for the rest of her life.

But try as she might, Sophie could not find any equilibrium for her feelings concerning Fabien. If she did not hate him as she had once done, her emotions were confusing and impossible to define. He never alluded to the night when they had laid with each other, which Sophie at first had found a relief. As time passed, she found it more and more frustrating. In bed, at night, she could not stop herself from thinking of what had transpired between them, and how Fabien's body had felt against her’s and how his hands and mouth had put her on fire. All too well she understood Chevalier's teasing now, as she let her own hands caress herself in the darkness. She had never dared to touch herself like this before, but now she thought of what Fabien had done to her and her fingers seemed to find their way on their own. Sophie found the glorious moment where the world tipped around her again, but it didn’t feel quite the same. It felt like something was missing. Like someone was missing. There must be more to it, more things one could do, but her imagination was lacking. And there were no one she could talk with about it as a young unmarried girl wasn’t supposed to know anything about the dealings between a man and a woman.

Even though being in Montespan’s circle provided Sophie with protection against unwanted attention, there were still moments when she walked alone through a hallway or a corridor. It was on one of those occasion the Duke of Cassel cornered her in a passage. He bore down on her with an unpleasant smile, and Sophie found herself blocked against a wall with the Duke standing much too close to her for comfort.

“What do you want?” Sophie asked in a clear voice, hoping it wouldn’t betray how uncomfortable he made her feel. Cassel frowned.

“Not so loud, Mademoiselle. You wouldn’t want people to hear what I have to say.”

“I don’t? It seems it's you who don’t want to be overheard. And I don’t think I want to know your secrets- I’m sure they are not suitable for me to listen to.”

Cassel looked sulky.

“Suit yourself. I have only your best interest at heart, my dear. I know a few things about your mother. Things which would make your continued presence at court very unsure if they were known. Or worse, you might face prison, or even death.”

Sophie looked down. She bit her lip while thinking furiously. She was not threatened the way he thought. It was unlikely he could provide any information the King did not already know. But her place at Versailles hinged on the pretence that Beatrice had retired to the country due to her health. If Cassel spread around rumours which contradicted this, her usefulness would be compromised, and then everything Fabien had threatened her with could happen.

“Oh no, you mustn’t tell anyone”, she said breathlessly. She looked up at him with wide eyes and hoped she looked properly frightened. It must have succeeded because he pressed a little closer to her.

“I could be persuaded not to. Believe me, I have no wish to cause such a pretty little thing any unpleasantness.”

His hand hovered over her bosom, finally settling on running a finger along the edge of the decollete. Sophie couldn’t suppress a shudder of disgust and his smile turned predatory.

“I’m sure we can find a few things you can do to make me happy.”

Cassel’s face was red and his breathing hard. Sophie thought she had never met a man who was more repulsive, but she could not let him gossip about her. If there was no other way than to let him have her, then she would do it, but perhaps it would not be necessary. His concentration was now fully on the white swell of breast visible over the neckline of her gown, his loathsome touch venturing higher to bare skin. He was sure of his prey now, she could see that. Young and scared Sophie who Madame de Montespan had dangled in front of his nose, only to snatch away again. She had been so afraid of him when they first met in his castle, but a lot had happened since then. Sophie stood straighter and raised her chin.

“Funny, I used to think you were the worst thing that could happen to me. I was so intimidated by you. But you know I’m quite friendly with Madame de Montespan nowadays, and she has told me all about you. How you are so inadequate you can only perform with frightened little girls who has nothing to compare you with.”

Sophie leaned closer and whispered in his ear. “I will tell you a little secret; I can compare you with someone who is far more terrifying than you can ever be.”

Cassel’s smile disappeared and his eyes flickered to the side.

“There’s another thing I find funny. You are a Duke and still, I have heard, you sleep in a broom cupboard. Your position at court is not very stable, is it? While I live in a large chamber with windows overlooking the garden. I wonder why that is so. Perhaps I have friends you can’t afford to irritate.”

Sophie’s heart was beating fast and despite her words she was not sure it would be enough to drive Cassel away. But then she took a step forward, causing him to step back, and triumph rose in her.

“I see I was mistaken,” he said abruptly and turned and scurried away.

He didn’t see what Sophie had not seen either until he moved from her view. Fabien Marchal was standing only a few yards away, close enough to have heard every word which had been said. Sophie met Fabien’s gaze, and he held it steadily for a few moments. Something which might have been a smile flickered over his face, then he gave her a small bow, completely without irony. Then he left and Sophie remained alone in the deserted corridor knowing that even if help had been an arms length away, she had conquered Cassel all on her own.

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One of the various amusement the King’s court entertained themselves with, was hunting. Sophie didn’t care much for the chase and the bloody ending, but she enjoyed riding and being outside in the forest. Her horse was a gift from Madame, a beautiful little chestnut mare with a perky disposition. It was the first horse Sophie had ever owned, and by far the best she had ridden and she loved it. Horsemanship had been as much a part of her education as dancing and needlework, but as her mother had not cared for horses herself. It had been the only part of Sophie’s life which hadn’t been supervised by her parent, and she had enjoyed these rare moments without the constant criticism. Even now when she would have welcomed a poke in her back as a reminder to not slouch, or a pointed remark over her dancing, Sophie still felt like she was free when she was on her horse.

This particular day the hunting party disturbed a family of wild boars and the enraged sow threw Sophie’s horse into a panic. Though she didn’t fall off, it took her some time to make it calm down. When Sophie looked around, she realised she was far from her friends and her surroundings were unfamiliar. At first she felt alarmed, but then she thought it likely her horse would know its way home. Letting it go as it pleased soon led them to a road, but there her horse decided it was more interested in a tuft of especially tempting grass, than moving. Sophie looked around trying to determine which direction would lead her home when a small group of riders came around a bend in the road. To her mingled relief and apprehension she saw that the leader was Fabien. He said something to his men who continued past Sophie.

“What are you doing here, all alone?”

“I’m lost”

Sophie quickly explained what had happened and Fabien nodded.

“I will follow you back to the castle. It’s not far.”

Sophie glanced at him, it felt strange to see him outside in daylight. He belonged to Versailles and to the night in her mind. He seemed perfectly at ease on his large black horse, temporarily freed from duty, just as she was. The sunlit road with the green trees all around was beautiful and serene, and the tension between them, which at times had been almost palpable, seemed to melt away. Perhaps it needed thick stone walls and darkness to be maintained. They rode in silence for a few minutes before Fabien spoke.

“Have the Duke of Cassel continued to harass you?”

It took Sophie a few moments to answer as she had not expected any concern of her well-being.

“No, not at all. I think he is avoiding me. I’m a little surprise it was that easy to make him give up.”

“He is a coward,” Fabien said as if that was the only explanation needed.

All at once Sophie felt she was in an excellent mood and gave him a radiant smile. Fabien, who had never been subjected to it before, looked a little bewildered for a moment or two. And Sophie, who often thought he was beyond surprise, felt this gave her courage to ask him something she had been wondering for some time.

“How do you make sense of everything you find out?”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s not only simple information, is it? You can’t just sort it into a list, because everything connects with something else. I try to make sense of what I find out, and that must be so very little of what you know. How do you remember it all?”

“Hmm. Have you tried to sort it out yourself?”

“Yes; I imagine it like a spider web. But I don’t dare to write it down and I find it difficult to keep it all in my mind and not get it muddled.”

Fabien looked at her with a certain appreciation.


At this point they emerged from the trees and entered the park around the castle. In the distance Sophie could see the hunting party, and Fabien turned his horse around.

“I leave you here. I will be back in two days time. I will show you what I do then.”

Not until he was out if sight did Sophie realise he had taken the time to escort her back to Versailles himself instead of sending one of his men. She returned to her friends feeling quite elated and not at all as unsettled by her little adventure as her companions seemed to think she should.

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Sophie’s good mood remained during the following days. It was not until she was arranging her hair to make herself ready for Fabien, it changed. Something she did when she looked into her mirror, perhaps how she moved her hand or held her head, suddenly reminded her of Beatrice. It felt as if her mother was close, only out of her line of sight. Watching Sophie with the familiar gaze combining impatience with love. It felt like she, any moment now, would snatch the comb from Sophie’s hand and finish her hair for her. She closed her eyes, but it only strengthened the feeling of her mother’s presence and then Beatrice spoke inside her mind, as clear as if she had really been in the room with her daughter.

“Such a happy face. Why I wonder? Because he seems to like you a little now? I haven’t been dead for long and you have already forgotten your duty as a daughter.”

Despite knowing she was alone, Sophie opened her eyes and looked around the room. When she looked back towards the mirror, her glance fell on a letter opener resting among ribbons and hairpins on her table.

“Yes, pick it up and bring it with you. He has started to trust you, and he wouldn’t expect you to do something like that. No one is invincible. Not even he can survive a knife in the throat.”

“I can’t.” Sophie whispered, but the voice in her head persisted.

“You can. It would be easy. If you loved me, you must avenge me.”

With unsteady fingers Sophie pushed in a few more hairpins, but then she took the letter opener and hid it in her skirt. She left her room in a hurry before she could dwell more over her action. As she stepped into Fabien’s office she pushed all thoughts of it away, determined to not let him think anything was out of the ordinary.

When she had finished her report, Fabien rose to open one of the chests lining the walls of the room. He motioned to Sophie to step forward, and she saw this was not an ordinary chest. Instead there was a large map of France with dozens of little lead markers, each one of them with a small label attached.

“What do you make of this?”

Sophie studied the map. At first it puzzled her, but then she brightened.

“I see. How clever!”

“You do? Well then, what changes would you make, if you consider what you have just told me?”

Without hesitation Sophie picked up two of the markers standing on Versailles on the map and moved them. She glanced at Fabien who nodded.

“Yes. And what conclusions do you make?”

Sophie took a few moments to consider her answer. Then she pointed at one marker she had moved.

“It’s nothing remarkable with going to Paris. Everyone do it all the time. I guess it can mean anything.” Then she pointed at the other marker. “That is peculiar, though. That place has no importance at all. But I don’t think I can draw any more conclusions, not from what I know. You would need more information.”

“Very good. Information from only one source is not enough. As it happens, I have reasons to look into the trip to Paris a little closer. But that town of no importance, well, there is a mistress there, and a child the father dotes on. I admit I found it curious as well when it first came to my notice.”

Fabien sounded pleased and Sophie blushed at the unexpected praise. But then she made a movement which made her feel the concealed letter opener against her leg, and she stiffened. She had forgotten about it, but now she couldn’t help putting her hand against her skirt so she could feel the outline through the fabric. Fabien frowned in suspicion at her, his stance suddenly alert.

“What's the matter?”

Sophie was about to say it was nothing, but the excuse died on her lips. Without a word she removed her little weapon and held it out to him. He took it from her, weighing it in his hand.

“I see.”

Fabien placed it on the table and unsheathed his knife instead.

“This won’t do, Sophie.”

He moved, so he was behind her, his voice very soft.

“Your little toy could do damage, but most likely you would only hurt yourself. If you want to kill someone, first make sure you have a suitable weapon.”

Sophie closed her eyes as his hand raked into her hair and pulled her head back as he put the knife to her throat.

“And, if possible, have the element of surprise to aid you. You have neither.”

She could feel the edge of the knife against her skin now, cold and sharp. It would slit her throat with ease, and she waited breathless, not daring to move. But after a moment he released her, turning her around to face him.

“It’s messy to slit a throat from behind, but it’s quick and you avoid getting the blood spattered all over you.”

He put the knife in her hand and closed his own over it. Guiding her arm he raised it so the knife pointed at his neck.

“This is the mistake most untrained makes, they aim high, and it’s easy to deflect.” He lowered her arm and turned her hand so the knife angled upwards. “This is better. A gut wound is nearly always fatal, even if it may take a while for the victim to die. You should try for that, I would be very lucky to survive a knife in my stomach twice.”

He let go of her and took a step back, leaving Sophie to hold the knife on her own.

“Go ahead.”

Sophie’s hand which held the knife trembled. Fabien’s hand, when he had held the knife to her throat had been completely steady. Now he seemed at ease, studying her face when, Sophie knew, had the roles been reversed she would not have been able to look anywhere else than on the knife. It would be easy to take a stab at him, even if she was doomed to fail. But then she had at least tried to revenge her mother. It would be the end of her, and Sophie didn’t want to die. Not now.

She turned the knife and gave it back to Fabien with the hilt first. He took it and sheathed it without comment. Sophie looked down on the floor, her heart beating hard. She wondered what he would do to her now, and how horrible it would be. When his hands closed around her arms, she tried not to flinch, but she didn’t look up.

“Look at me.”

Hesitantly she raised her head, and found, to her surprise, he didn’t seem angry.

“I know you didn’t really come here to kill me. But there is no room for histrionics like that in this line of work. Hate me if you must, but if you are loyal to the king, you must be loyal to me. There is no other way. You didn’t just agree to this deal, you offered it, and I own you.”

His grip hardened.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Sophie whispered. Then she collected what was left of her courage and spoke louder.

“My mother was not older than I am now, when my father was killed. Hate and revenge became the only things which were important. Everything else she felt become something twisted, even her love for me. I know how easy it would be for me to be like her. But I don’t want to live her life. I don’t want to let hate rule mine.”

They stared at each other in silence, Fabien’s fingers digging painfully into her arms. Then he moved a hand to the back of her neck and kissed her. It was not a gentle kiss, but Sophie didn’t mind the savagery of it. A fierce joy filled her, and she responded eagerly. But then, with an abruptness which almost made her fall, he released her.

“Leave. Now.”

Though Fabien didn’t raise his voice, there was something in it which made Sophie turn and flee back to the safety of her room.

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Fabien didn’t mention the incident with the knife again, and he didn’t mention the kiss. Sophie wished he would. She found it maddening how he could go on seemingly unconcerned when she was not. Her nighttime fantasies about him had found new fuel in the kiss, though she strove to appear as cool as he was, whenever she was summoned.

Her meetings with Fabien had still changed, they no longer consisted of her report and dismissal. Instead Fabien taught her about politics, a subject Sophie had never cared for before. But under his tutelage she began to understand the intricacies of it, and with understanding came interest. He gave her books and pamphlets to read and expected her to not only be able to recite the texts, as her old tutors had done, but to analyse and have opinions. Sophie’s world expanded, she saw layers beyond the surface she was used to. The glittering court of Versailles was not only there as the setting for a radiant sovereign, it was also a tool for the King to keep his aristocratic subjects in check. She finally understood why she and Madame de Maintenon had travelled to the Duke of Cassel’s castle, and how important it had been to bring him back to Versailles.

Information, she realised, had more power than she could ever have imagined. She started to encourage her maid to gossip, and through Mariette she became friendly with a few other maids, rewarding useful nuggets of information with a coin or two. In the female staff she found something Fabien for all his power could never have- their trust. As a result her reports became fuller and more complex. And though Fabien rarely said so, she had got to know him well enough to see he was pleased with her progress. He never spoke much, and Sophie eventually understood it was by inclination and not a reflection of his mood, and grew to appreciate brevity over eloquence

One night Fabien gave her a handful of papers when she was about to leave. He gave her no explanation of what they were, and at first Sophie didn’t understand what she was reading. Fabien’s neat handwriting listed names and dates which held no meaning to her. Then she read her own name and finally understood. This was her family. Her name, and what a relief to see she had always been Sophie, and the name of her parents. Where and when they had been born and married and lived. And, after her father’s name, when he had died. She touched the words with a fingertip, wishing she could remember her father’s face. The date of his death- she had been four years old. She had memories from that age; she had been sent to a convent school then and she remembered crying in homesickness in an unfamiliar bed. But she had no memories of the home she had been missing, or the people who had filled it.

The next page brought another surprise. Her mother's parents were listed as deceased, but her other grandparents had not only been alive, but lived in the same house as Sophie and her parents. There had been two uncles too, her father’s younger brothers. They had left France after her his death, travelled north until they had reached Sweden, a country Sophie knew very little about. But there it was, even the name of the city where they had settled, and presumably still lived in.

Sophie read the papers over and over, memorizing every name and every date. Here, she realised, she had a way out. Her family was far away, but she could write to them. Had they loved her? Somehow she thought so. They would never had wanted her to be raised in a convent, they must have wanted to take her with them. If she left Versailles, she would have somewhere to go. Fabien would not, could not, prevent her from leaving, and for a few moments Sophie imagined a joyful reunion with people who loved her.

Only it was an impossible dream. Her family might want her, welcome and love her, but they would not accept who she was. She had been brought up in the wrong faith and the wrong class, and even if they were her relatives, she would never belong with them. Versailles was her home, and it was here she wanted to live. What more, she had a freedom here few other women had, at court, or elsewhere. She might be subjected to Fabien's demands, but so far they had been easy enough to obey. As long as she fulfilled her obligations, he had no views on how she spent her time and money, or how she dressed. For the first time in her life, Sophie could choose for herself, when her friends had to obey parents or spouses.

Her family had been stolen from her, and it was her mother who had been the thief. Now it was too late to go back. Sophie cried that night, but then she burned the papers, making sure there were only ashes left. Not until the next day did she realise what was missing from them; there had been no account of what her mother had been doing all those years Sophie had been at the convent. Beatrice had visited once or twice every year, laden with gifts and sweets, a beautiful, but also distant figure, and whose life her daughter never thought about. When Sophie turned twelve her mother had brought her home, which by then was an apartment in Paris. It had meant a new kind of lessons, and a new wardrobe, and it had taken years before Sophie understood how little money they had. And not until after her mother’s death had she asked herself how her everything had been paid. Perhaps Fabien had meant to spare her when he didn’t include her mother’s life, but Sophie knew anyway. She had been raised for the king, everything she had been taught, how she dressed, moved and talked, were for the single purpose of pleasing the king. A king for Sophie, for Beatrice there must have been a string of men rich enough to enable her transition from the wife to a middle-class architect, to a widowed noblewoman at court. Her mother had always done what she had to, in order to survive.

Sophie didn’t mention her mother's past the next time she saw Fabien, but she asked him something else.

“Do you think my father was really guilty of treason?”

“I do not know. I can tell you the protocols from the trial are lacking. There was no more evidence than the matter of religion, and he never confessed to any guilt.”

His tone of voice made his disapproval of such sloppiness clear. Sophie thought had Fabien been there he would have made certain the matter of her father’s guilt or innocence would have been irrevocably settled.

The fear she felt for him receded and changed into respect as the months passed. She stopped trying to aggravate him on purpose though she sometimes found it hard to resist a gentle tease when he was unusually morose. Sophie bit her tongue on those occasion, deeming it unwise, but during a ball when she spotted him among the throngs of dancing guests, she couldn’t resist. She stopped in front of his silent figure and smiled.

“Don’t you ever dance?”

Fabien gave her a dismissive glare.


“Why not? Don’t you know how?”

“Everyone knows how to dance.”

He clearly wanted her gone, but perhaps it was the fault of too much champagne, Sophie felt mischievous and persisted.

“Prove it.”

At first she thought he would ignore her, but then he surprised her with a courteous bow before taking her hand and leading her out on the floor. He could dance, she found. Perhaps not with the skill of a consummate courtier, but he knew the steps and moved gracefully enough. But Sophie barely noticed. Suddenly she could only think of one thing; her hand in Fabien’s.They danced in silence, the only couple dancing not engaged in small talk and flirtations. They parted as the steps demanded, only to meet again, and every time their hands met, Sophie felt like a small shock went from her fingertips through her whole body, rendering her breathless and wanting.

“Aren’t you a daring girl,”” Madame de Montespan said when the dance was over. “I almost thought you would have your head bitten off.”

Sophie raised her chin a little.

“Well, Monsieur Marchal doesn’t look like he has much fun. I took pity on him.”

Madame de Montespan sniffed. “I doubt his pleasures lay within a ball room.”

Sophie knew they didn’t, but where exactly did they lay? Her curiosity when it came to Fabien only grew over time. Quietly she turned her newfound skills of observation on him, noting how he always seemed to be alone, even in company. A man perpetually on duty among a crowd who only sought one diversion after another.

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For no better reason than boredom and frustration, Sophie had a love affair. A young and dashing vicomte with perfect cheekbones and bluest eyes she had ever seen, paid attention to her. Henri was gallant and attentive, pursuing her with poems about her beauty and endless praise of her virtues. In the convent she and the other girls had often discussed the perfect man, and Henri was everything she had dreamt of back then. To her surprise, she didn’t feel as excited as she had thought she would be, now when he had appeared.

The poetry was beautiful, and Henry knew how to deliver the lines with passionate fervor, but still Sophie’s mind wandered. Somehow it seemed like such a waste of time to her, a tedious wait for something more exciting. She longed for Henri to touch her, but when he finally did, he did it as gently as if she was a fragile porcelain figurine. Sophie almost snapped at him she wouldn’t break, but she knew he expected her to be demure and shy. If she had been the inexperienced virgin Henri thought she was, she would probably have appreciated it, but now it only left her dissatisfied. If she kissed him with more ardour than he thought fitting, he drew back in confusion, and Sophie had to will herself into passivity, killing what little desire she had felt for him.

It was also tiresome how Henri never cared for her opinions. She had got used to discuss her reading with Fabien, who relentlessly demanded her opinions. Now she found it an annoyance to be expected to listen to Henri’s views while her thoughts were superfluous and unwelcome. And above all he was too safe and predictable. After a few weeks Sophie had learnt Henri’s mannerisms and quirks, and she often knew what he was about to say, before he said it. But she continued to see him, because her friends envied her, and perhaps, because she hoped Fabien would acknowledge it. So far he had not commented on her liaison with Henri. Sophie hadn't told him about it, but she was sure he knew, and eventually he remarked upon it, proving her right.

“And when had you planned to tell me about your little dalliance with the vicomte?”

Sophie shrugged. “He is of no importance.”

“You are right. He is of no significance, and you will stop giving him attention. There are better venues for your charms.”

Her first reaction was to protest but then Sophie murmured her consent, earning a surprised glance. For a moment she thought Fabien would say more, but he dismissed her. Back in her room Sophie wondered why she hadn’t argued with him, at least for form's sake, but she didn’t want Henri, and to be truthful she felt it was a relief to let him go. The only thing her brief relation with him had given her, was the knowledge she wanted a man who dared to touch her like she wouldn’t break, and who didn’t object to her using her mind. And she knew who it was.

It was a sin, whichever way Sophie looked at it. A sin to want a man when she wasn’t married, but she had already broken that rule. A sin to want her mother’s lover. Surely a sin to want her mother’s executioner. But it was Fabien she desired, and though he seemed indifferent on the surface, she knew it was mutual. She had felt the heat and need from him the first time and it had been there when he kissed her. But he had not pursued it further, and Sophie realised it would be up to her. The wisest thing, she knew, was to move on and forget her ill-considered attachment, but she didn’t want to. For weeks she considered what she could do, and one day she sat down a wrote a note to Fabien, a few words asking him to come to her room in the late evening.

When Sophie became part of Madame de Montespan’s household she had been given a new room, closer to her mistress. It was not as large as the rooms she had shared with her mother, but still spacious enough with a large window; by the standards of Versailles she was very lucky. She had assumed it was Fabien’s influence; it was in his interest she was seen as someone with importance, but he had never been there. And she was not at all sure he would come. It was he who summoned her, dictating the when and where’s of their meetings. But tonight she needed to be in the place which belonged to her, not him.

Slightly nervous Sophie excused herself earlier than usual from the evening's entertainment and returned to her chamber. She allowed her maid to undress her and wrap her in a robe, not wanting Mariette to suspect something unusual would happen. When she had dismissed her maid, Sophie remained in front of her mirror, brushing her hair in long slow strokes to calm herself. The long tresses straightened by the tug of the brush, only to bounce back into glossy curls as she released them. It soothed her, but when there was a discreet knock on her door shortly after midnight, Sophie suddenly felt short of breath and there was an unpleasant fluttering sensation in her stomach. Without waiting for her answer the door opened, and Fabien slipped in. He glanced around the room, his alert eyes taking in everything before he crossed his arms and leaned back against the door.

“What is of such importance you couldn’t wait?”

“I needed to speak with you. You may be content with how things are between us, but I’m not. And I don’t think you are, either.”

Fabien remained leaning against the door, but Sophie noticed the muscles tensing in his neck, and his face became even more unreadable than usual.

“There are reasons, and you know them.”

“Yes. For one, you think I’m too young. But I’m not, not anymore, and you are partly to blame.”

He turned his hand slightly in acknowledgement.

“And then there is my mother. I know you loved her.”

Fabien’s jaw set, and he pushed himself away from the door. Sophie suppressed an impulse to back away from him as he approached her.

“You have a lot of gall to make presumptions about my feelings.”

“I know because talking about her makes you so angry. Only those we love can hurt us like that.” Sophie’s voice wavered, and she had to stop for a moment before she could continue. “I know, because I loved her too.”

She had not planned to cry, but tears rose in her eyes, and she had to stop speaking. Turning around, away from Fabien she swallowed angrily, pressing her hand hard to her mouth to stop the threatening sobs. He moved behind her, and then he placed his hand on her shoulder, only for a heartbeat or two before he removed it. Somehow it made her feel calmer.

“I’m not in love with you. It’s not that I’m trying to tell you.”

“What it is then?”

Sophie gave herself another moment to compose herself before she turned back to face Fabien.

“I have an offer for you.”

“Another one?”

There was a faint tinge of irony in his voice, and Sophie reddened.

“Madame once told me the most important thing is to belong, or you will be lost. I thought she meant to to be part of a place, but she was speaking of belonging to someone. I do; I’m yours. My offer is, you could belong to me.”

“Why would I want that?”

“Because I can give you something you want, which you don’t think you can have. I have been watching you.”

He raised an eyebrow at that.

“You have? And what has your observations told you?”

“Everyone is afraid of you.”

“That’s hardly difficult to see.”

“No. I suppose you find it useful.”

“It is. Is that all?”

“No. You are lonely too. I have talked with the maids. They are all terrified of you, but not because you make use of them, as many men here do.”

“I’m not in the habit of forcing women.”

“They also say there were no women before my mother- or after. You don’t frequent the bawdy houses in the village either, as far as I can tell. I guess it wouldn't be a very safe place for you to be vulnerable at. And if you don’t pay for your company, then it must be difficult for you to know if a woman is truly willing, or if she is afraid what you might do if she say no. ”

“So that is what you think?”

“Am I wrong?”

He didn’t answer, but Sophie took his silence as affirmation, and pressed on. She had said far too much now, to stop.

“Still, you are a man who enjoy your power over others. You like the power you have over me. You could make me do anything you want. But you don’t.”

“I told you; I don’t force women.”

Sophie stretched out a tentative hand and touched Fabien’s face, not knowing if he would let her, or not. But he turned his head briefly so his lips brushed over her fingers, and she dared to caress his cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin and the slight stubble of a man who had shaved many hours ago.

“I know. But if we could belong to each other, you wouldn’t have to worry. What we did, I can’t stop thinking about it. I want more.”

She dared to take a step closer to him, still not sure if he would push her away again. Fabien didn’t move, but she could sense how tense he was.

“I asked you once what it is you want from a woman, but you didn't answer me. Now let me tell you this; I liked everything you did to me.”

Without daring to look away from Fabien's dark eyes which seemed to bore into her with an intensity she could almost feel like heat, Sophie took his hand, and lifted it against her throat.

“Everything. Even when you hurt me. That is what you like, is it not? And I I want you to do it again.”

Fabien drew in his breath sharply. His fingers tightened briefly then he shifted it to close inside her hair, painfully pulling her head back so far the her neck muscles protested under the strain.

“Like this?”

“Yes,” Sophie whispered.

Fabien’s other hand moved over her face, caressing it like she had caressed his, before it slipped down her arm, twisting her hand up behind her back as he had done once before. Sophie gasped when pain shot through her arm and shoulder. Last time she had been afraid, but now the reason to why her heart pounded so hard in her breast was excitement.

“And this too?”

“Yes. Please.”

She slipped her free arm around his neck and pulled him close. When he kissed her, Sophie could feel he was smiling.