|Choose Life - Choices Book One - Chapter Seven
||[Sep. 13th, 2008|01:06 pm]
Defenders of The Vicomte De Chagney
Story Summary: Anders de Chagny, youngest child of Raoul and Christine and Orla Herrin, youngest child of Erik and Tallis, are two lost souls who find each other. What they do not know is that they are being manipulated by a nightmare from the past - a nightmare that has touched the lives of both families. The choices their parents made in the past come back to haunt the present. Just as the choices the children make in the present will haunt the future. Do the families have the courage to get beyond a shared past, their shared nightmare, their shared mistakes to save the future? Do they have the strength to save the souls of their children even as they find forgiveness and redemption for their own?|
Chapter Summary: Anders and Orla develop a plan to remain together. Chase reassures Raoul that everything is well with Anders even as his thoughts dwell on revenge. And in two houses separated by a mile of road, Christine and Tallis find their pasts catching them up.
The morning dawned bright and clear, not a cloud in the sky. Slight breezes blew in from the west, nudging incoming waves harder along the shoreline. A boat made its way up the Channel trailing noisy seabirds in its wake. And on a piece of driftwood nestled against the base of the cliff, two young people sat hand-in-hand contemplating the future.
“Now what happens?” Orla asked her voice quiet and tentative.
Anders shook his head. “I wish I knew.” He was silent for a moment before turning to his companion. “All I know is I do not want this to ever end. For what seems like the very first time in my life, I feel as if I know who I am and what it is I was meant to do.” He raised Orla’s hand to his lips. “I feel as if I finally belong.”
“You do belong,” Orla nodded, “and so do I. I am no longer the perfect, protected princess.” She smiled. “You see me for who I am. You see me as a real person.” She sighed and put her head upon his shoulder. “What are we going to do?”
“I did not sleep well last night because I could not stop thinking of how we could stay together.” Anders leaned against her head. “And it came to me in the middle of the night. My father wants me to return to school and I think I am going to give him what he wants.” Orla turned slightly to look up at him. “Only I think I am going to ask if I can go to school in England.”
Orla brightened. “Really?”
“I have family in Lincolnshire…” Anders kissed away the look crossing Orla’s face. “I know it is far from Cornwall but it is not that far from London. I will ask if I can go spend some time with my family and look at schools in England. My father may agree as he is close to my Uncle Henri and I am close to my cousin Julianna.” He smiled. “You would like Julianna – she is all blonde hair and blue eyes and a veritable whirlwind. She enters a room and you cannot help but notice her.”
“She sounds like great fun.”
“She is,” Anders agreed. “If I go to school in England, I would be able to see you during school breaks. Perhaps we could even arrange to meet in London. You can go visit your brother and I could come to see you. I know your father is not going to be happy with me; but if I show I am not just some spoiled rich boy out to ruin his daughter, perhaps he will give me the time to court you properly.”
Orla felt her breath catch. “You would court me?”
His words were not ones he would have spoken to the females found in salons and drawing rooms but this girl was unlike them and she needed to know. “You are a lady in every sense of the word,” Anders began and sat up straight, bringing Orla with him, turning her to face him. “I have known women born to that name. I have known women not born into such high privilege but who titled themselves as such. You are nothing like any of them.” He smiled. “You are gentle and beautiful with a kind spirit – everything a proper lady of any position should be. You deserve nothing less than the very best I can offer you.”
“Anders…” Orla breathed, her head shaking. “I wish I was everything good you see in me.”
“And I wish the same thing of you.” Anders shrugged. “I do not know if this is just a silly game we are playing or if it is as real as it feels. I do know I want us to be given the chance to find out. Should it mean I court you to prove myself to your father, then so be it.”
A shy smile turned up the corners of Orla’s lips. “Let me give you the chance to prove yourself to my mother first.”
Even as two lost souls plotted to find a way to keep their dreams alive, back in Paris the man plotting the death of young hopes knocked upon a closed door.
“Come,” a voice called out.
Chase placed a mask of serenity upon his face before turning the handle and entering the room, closing the door behind him. He turned to the room, wood gleaming warmly in the morning light and from the corner of his eye caught a glimpse of the portrait hanging over the fireplace. No wonder men fought over you. No wonder my brother wants to finish what he started. He kept his mask on as his mind raced. And I shall make sure it happens. He allowed a smile to cross his face as he acknowledged the man in the leather chair. “Good morning, sir.”
Raoul placed the book he had been reading in his lap and smiled at his secretary. A familiar gratitude welled up inside his heart – he had been so fortunate to find Chase after Pierre Martin retired. He had inherited Pierre from his brother, Philippe, and the older man carefully guided Raoul through his responsibilities. Then he had gently done the same for the new Vicomtess. Raoul never thought to find anyone as capable or as trustworthy as Pierre had been. Then an acquaintance mentioned a young clerk in his law firm who seemed to be destined for greater things and Raoul had taken the opportunity placed before him never once looking back. “Good morning, Chase.” Raoul motioned the young man to the opposite chair.
Taking his seat, Chase remained ramrod straight, his demeanor businesslike as he carefully placed the folio he carried in his lap. Once settled, he smiled at the man before him. “I hope you had a restful night after your long trip.” It was always wise to keep your prey at ease and unaware.
“I did, thank you.” A single finger reached up to rub at Raoul’s temple. “Except I did stay up a bit too long talking with Katya.” A smile lit his eyes. “It was nice, though, to just sit and have time to quietly catch up with all that she and her husband have been doing. And it was very nice to spend a few hours with my grandson before he had to go to bed for the night.”
“Good,” Chase nodded.
“And what of your family? Did you have a pleasant visit with them?”
Chase lowered his eyes; he knew his part well. “My visit with my family was enjoyable as always. Thank you for the time away from my duties.”
Raoul sighed. “I wish we knew more about them. You are a part of our family! I think in some ways you know us better than we know ourselves. My wife and I would just like to get to know where you came from and help if that should be needed.”
“I thank you for your concern.” Chase raised his eyes again. “My family thanks you, as well; but I try very hard to keep my personal and professional lives separate. It is only proper.” He could not let Raoul see the way his blood raced at the thought of what Nico had endured behind the locked doors of the asylum. “And my older brother has been ill for some years.” He shook his head as Raoul opened his mouth. “No. He is getting well and should be fully recovered shortly. He is surrounded by an extended family who care for him and we are a private people. I hope you understand.”
Raoul nodded as he thought back to the care his own family had given him. “I am glad you have such caring people around your brother.”
“Thank you.” Chase opened the folio resting upon his lap. “Now, regarding this correspondence that requires your attention…” He was stopped by Raoul’s words.
“One last thing before we start…” Chase waited patiently. “Did the Comtess get off safely?”
“I took her to the station myself and waited until the train had left.” A lying smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "She knew you would follow her back to Paris but hoped you would not follow her to Boulogne.”
Raoul look at his hands. “She would,” he said softly before returning his attention to Chase. “I shall not; I think my presence might exasperate the situation.” His brow knitted in question. “You know my son – is everything well with him? He is not in any difficulty, is he?”
You do care! The triumphant thought crossed Chase’s mind. That will make our revenge that much sweeter. Aloud, “There is no trouble, sir, that I can confidently say. I will say that your son does have a plan for his life and only hopes that you will support his efforts.”
His words piqued Raoul’s interest. “Plan? What plan?”
“I think that is something best left for the Comtess to tell you.”
And at the moment the Comtess was in the kitchen of the house in Boulogne waiting patiently for the kettle on the stove to whistle at her. She had arrived an hour earlier only to find the remains of a hasty breakfast on the kitchen table and her son not at home. Christine did not worry over Anders and thought he was probably down at the beach – he had always loved watching the boats as a small child. Perhaps he was planning a career at sea. That would make his father happy, she thought as she had climbed the stairs to change out of her traveling clothes. She had abandoned the finery required of her position in Paris for a simple skirt and blouse. Here, in the house by the Channel, she had never been the Comtess de Chagny. She had always been just Christine. This was the place where she and Raoul had just been another family. This house to which she had once run from painful memories had become a sanctuary where new memories – happy memories of laughing children – had been created. Now she waited for the water to heat and her son to return.
“Ah,” Christine sighed in satisfaction as the kettle whistled. She grabbed her skirt in hand and lifted the kettle, pouring the hot water over the tea strainer in a ceramic pot. Placing the kettle back on the stove, she was placing the lid on the teapot when the door opened behind her.
“Maman!” a surprised voice sounded.
She turned around and could not help the smile growing from the fears fleeing her heart. Anders was bright-eyed and smiling, looking happier than he had been for a long time. “My dear boy!” She held out her hands and embraced her youngest child as he took them. Anders was not quite as tall as his father or older brother but he had grown so much from the tiny babe she had hugged tightly to her chest. Christine finally drew back and reached up to kiss his cheek before letting Anders go. “You look wonderful!”
Anders laughed. “Did you expect to find me moping about, drowning my sorrows in drink.” A look of mock horror crossed his face. “Or something worse?”
Christine returned his laugh as she shook her head. “I know you better than that, dear child.”
“What are you doing here, Maman.” Anders pulled out a kitchen chair and thought for a moment. “Not that I am not pleased to see you!” He sat down as his mother nodded at him.
Christine leaned against the counter and clasped her hands at her waist. “I came here to assure myself that you were – indeed – doing well. Did you not think your father would share your letter with me?” She fought down the laugh at the sheepish look that crossed Anders’ face. “Honestly, Anders! Sometimes you are far too much like me for your own good.” She grew a bit stern. “I know that you are up to something.”
“I was,” Anders interrupted his mother. “But my plans have changed.” He drew a deep breath. “I want to go back to school.” His heart dropped a bit at the surprised but pleased look that crossed his mother’s face. “But I want to go to school in England.”
“What is it with England?” Christine threw up her hands. “First Katya tells me that David wishes to return to England and wants to approach your Aunt Constance about finding them a parish patronage and now you…”
“I want to go spend time with Uncle Henri and look at schools,” Anders said quickly.
Shaking her head at the strange turn of events in the lives of her children, Christine could do little more than just stare at her son. And it was as she studied her child, the child who looked so much like her, that she saw a familiar light in his eyes. It was the light of the stars that had been in her own eyes on a long ago night atop the Paris Opera House while wrapped in the arms of the man who would be her husband – her son was in love! Christine swallowed down the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat. This was unexpected! She had thought to find Anders in Boulogne plotting a way to work in the theatre – a thought she knew would disappoint his father to no end. But this? This was completely unexpected! She did not know how to deal with this. She needed a bit more time to sort through the thoughts racing across her mind. “Why England?” she asked hoping her voice sounded normal.
Anders truly loved his mother. She had been nothing like the other mothers in his circle of friends; she had always been there for him – for all of them. She had read them stories and put them to bed. She had comforted their hurts and sat with them when they were sick. And it had been his mother who bridged the awkward moments between him and his father. He found he could not lie to her now. “Would you believe I met a girl on the beach last week?” He grinned and shrugged. “I was walking along the beach and there she was and she dropped her scarf and I picked it up for her.”
Christine’s words came back to haunt her - Oh, I do not know that chasing girls along the beach is quite so awful. Look what happened to you when you chased me along the beach. “And what is this girl like?”
“She is…” Anders found himself at a loss for words. “She is visiting France with her mother who is conducting business for her husband. From what I understand her father is a composer and prefers to stay at home and work on his music.”
A composer. That was good. “Is this someone your father and I might have heard?”
“I do not think so.” Anders watched his mother turn her back as she began to set crockery on a tray, preparing to serve tea. “Orla – her name is Orla – she says her father left France years ago and does not prefer to come back.” He sighed. “She is so beautiful! She has golden brown hair and eyes that look gold in the right light – her name means golden princess. She said she is her father’s perfect symphony. I guess there is some type of disfigurement in the family that her brothers inherited but she did not.”
Christine was thankful her back was to her son so he could not watch the color drain from her face. She quietly cleared her throat before speaking again. “Does this girl have a last name?”
“Herrin,” Anders replied. “Her name is Orla Herrin.”
Christine felt her world fall out from under her.
Even as the words that passed Anders’ lips unknowingly caused his mother’s heart to fall to her feet, a mile down the road the girl he was falling in love with was in the arms of her own mother.
“It is so nice to see you again,” Tallis said as she hugged her daughter close.
“I am glad to see you again, too,” Orla replied and smiled as her mother let her go.
“Why do I doubt that?”
Orla shrugged and bounced on her toes. “I do not know.”
Tallis laughed and pinched her daughter’s chin. “You are a delightful child but a poor liar, my dear. Now, amuse me with tales of what you have done this past week while I unpack my trunk.”
“Did everything go well for Papa?”
“Yes.” A satisfied smile passed over Tallis’ face. “The managers at the theatre were very pleased with the pieces your father sent and they have request more for next year’s season – at a larger sum. Your father is going to be so happy!”
“I am very happy.”
Tallis nodded in agreement. “I can see that. You must have a had a most enjoyable week without me.”
Orla grew somber. “It was not all that much fun without you, Mama.”
“Just tell me.”
“I did everything I promised I would. I behaved myself, just as you wanted. I went to the fishing village with Madame Jacinais and we brought fish.” Orla looked very pleased with herself. “And I taught her how to make a proper fish and chips.” She joined in her mother’s laughter. “Then I spent some time in the garden reading and I spent a good deal of time on the beach watching the boats and the people. There were not too many people there.” She bit her fingertip. “I guess it is because it is still a bit too cold for people to be on the beach.”
“Were you not chilled yourself?” Tallis was bent over her trunk and could not see the sheepish look on her daughter’s face.
“I was but…” Now was as good a time as any to break the news to her mother. If she could get Anders past her mother, get her on their side, surely her father could offer no objections. “Well, there was this day and I just wanted to feel everything! I wanted to feel the wind in my hair and the water on my fingers. I took my scarf off and dropped it on the sand.” Orla drew a deep breath, her words rushing out. “And a young man picked up my scarf and gave it back to me and I made a new friend.”
Tallis straightened and turned around. “What?” She looked at Orla, taking note of the heightened color in her cheeks, the glow in her eyes. “Oh dear Lord,” Tallis sighed. “Orla what have you done?”
Orla stamped a small foot, her temper getting the better of her. “I did nothing wrong! He picked up my scarf and gave it back and we started to talk and…” Her anger faded beneath the memories of Anders and days spent beneath the early spring sun. “And he is very nice and has been nothing but a gentleman toward me.” She could not help but smile. “You would like him, Mama, you would!” She giggled. “He is very handsome and reminds me a bit of Gabriel and Michael – Anders has the same curly dark hair but his eyes are very dark.”
“And does this Anders have a last name?” Tallis wondered.
Orla sighed inwardly – maybe there was a chance after all! “His name is Anders de Chagny.” She did not understand why all the color suddenly faded from her mother’s face and did not have a chance to ask as a soft knock came at their door.
Tallis did not know how she found her feet or how she walked across the room to answer the door. Madame Jacinais stood there, a small envelope in her hand. “Yes?” Tallis heard someone who sounded like her ask from a million miles away.
Madame Jacinais handed her the card. “This came for you. The lad said it was very important.”
“Thank you,” Tallis replied as she took the card, closing the door and looking down at what she held in her hands. Memories from another time and place threatened to overwhelm her as she looked at the embossed stationary, remembering another time she had held the same stationary.
“What is it Mama?” Orla wondered. “What is wrong?”
Tallis shook her head, trembling fingers opening the envelope, slipping the card out. She looked at the message and knew Erik’s fears had come to life…
“We must talk. Christine.”
Author’s PS: Thank you for your patience. August was a difficult month full of very long work weeks. I think I had three days off the whole month – one of which was for Tropical Storm Fay. Now that the semester has begun and my life is once again my own, expect regular updates … whoo hoo hoo!