Chapter 8 here ... Chapter 10 here
Nikki eschewed the right to her own bedroom and in light jackets and walking shoes, she and Thierry disappeared across the field in the direction of the small wood where they’d spent so much time over the years.
At the gully, he turned to her. ‘How many days and nights have we been together, Nikki?’
‘And yet I’ve never accepted it permanently, Thierry.’
‘The children adore you, I adore you. It’s the longest running relationship here today and the latest too.’
‘Thierry, do you think I'm not aware of that?' She came straight into his arms, resting her hands on his shoulders. 'Especially in your arms last night? But Hugh and I have a sort of agreement.’
‘You just saw his eyes, didn't you?' He felt her body tense up and knew he'd hit a chord. I would look only at you. I'm not attacking him, I like the man but one person who doesn’t plan ahead is enough in a relationship.’
‘That’s fair comment, Thierry but now I’m going to tell you why Geneviève is your girl and why you’d better see her in the third round. She has troubles and she needs you more than anyone else on the planet. We're not in these things just for ourselves and you know that. Francesca has taken to her and Olivier thinks she’s simply the best. You need a calmer person than me, less flighty - people call me that as you know - you need a woman who’ll become an extremely loyal companion. I’m trouble with a capital T and you know it but Hugh is willing to accept that.’
‘Because he can’t find anyone else?’
She pulled away roughly and dropped her head. 'Thank you.'
'I'm sorry, Nikki. I'm ... sorry. It's not so. I'm sorry. You're the prize.'
‘Thierry - you need look no further than Francesca to see that she’s intrigued by Hugh and now the two of them are in negotiation in one of the rooms.’
‘But that’s an impossibility. She’s just seventeen. Over my dead body.’
‘Almost eighteen, Thierry and grown up. Those were a woman’s eyes I saw trained on Jacques but I also saw them look straight into Hugh’s eyes and she liked what she saw.’
‘But he would never –’
‘Of course he wouldn’t, as he’s committed to me and I'm sure she wouldn't either but don’t just dismiss these things out of hand so quickly. There’s definitely something there between those two. Look,' she looked up into his eyes, 'I was just shaking you up - Chessa has eyes for Jacques ... and for you.'
'Well, she loves me, yes. And?'
'Oh Thierry, don't you see how much she adores you?' He smiled happily and now she said, 'Anyway, tell me why I should go with you. Don't bring Hugh into it - just tell me why I should now make love to you in the next few minutes and then accept you as my man forever.’
He now relaxed even further and it was clear that he relished the idea of the two of them, even though she knew he had a ring waiting for Mademoiselle.
‘Because of the sheer weight of our experience together. We implicitly know, trust and understand one another, the thing is so right with us, Nikki. You know it’s so. I’m surprised I even have to put it into words. I don't have the gift of rhetoric but do you not remember our nights, our jokes, our shared experiences?’
‘Thierry, Thierry, you’re just the best there is. Here is my opinion of you.’ She then launched a torrent of kissing which took him aback, her hands all over him and he responded in kind. 'That's what I think of you, Thierry Villeneuve.'
‘Look, I’m unsettled, Thierry, so is Hugh and I’ve always been one for chances - you know that. Don't think for a second that this is an easy thing for me. It's by no means a done deal with Hugh, especially after what I just saw. Yet that's how I think it will be, how it must be and Mademoiselle is the better match for you. I'll still be visiting, I'll still kiss you and the children, we'll still laugh and talk but your lover will be Mademoiselle.'
She ran her hand over his cheek, then through his hair, looking into his eyes. 'Please make her happy, Thierry. Please?'
Deflated, he nodded and they had one last, long kiss. It was time to return to the farmhouse.
'I’m a crazy woman, Jean-Claude,’ Geneviève opened, sitting in the first outhouse on the only chair in the room, but he was too old a campaigner to be put off by her opening gambit.
‘I have a lifetime to help you. Do you remember saying you’d marry me tomorrow?’
‘A woman needs to be careful what she says, doesn’t she? It comes back to haunt her.’
‘If you hadn’t said it, I’d never have entertained hopes.’
‘What if I was deciding between two other men and neither accepted me? Would you accept me, having accepted you as my third choice?’
‘It matters little how we get there, as long as we get there.’
‘Would your ego allow that? You have proud antecedents, Jean-Claude. I’m not sure I need such devotion from a man.’
‘What do you need then?’
‘Stability, excitement, strength - and I need it now.’
He made his move, took her hand and his was, as she’d hoped, a firm hand, warm but not hot, the fingers long, cultured and manly. She noted the gold ring. His touch was expectant, hopeful but not anxious – a very, very patient touch – the touch of a man who knows that when the play is all played out, he’ll still be waiting there, at the foot of the stage, to walk off into the sunset with the heroine.
Jean-Claude had certainty, charm, he was alluring in his own way and yet there was some other factor – was it his face, his manner, the fact that he was a policeman – somehow he wasn’t for her. She couldn’t identify it and she resented whatever it was.
She allowed the kiss and there was no awkwardness there – only devotion.
Francesca led Hugh by the hand, to everyone's surprise, out of the door and presumably to the guestroom.
She was a good kid and he was bemused to see what she'd have in mind. She was also easy on the eyes. He waited.
'Well?' she said. 'Aren't you going to kiss me? I heard that's what you do with women.'
'From your father?'
'Well ... yes.'
'I only kiss those who care for me and whom I care for, Chessa.'
'I've looked at you, you've looked at me.'
'Well ... not exactly ... but you like me, I know. And I like you.'
'And I like you. A lot. But you know you'll end up with Jacques, don't you?' he grinned.
'I might just surprise you ... Hugh,' she said in that light voice, playing the coquette. 'Do you think I should be in this game?'
'I think your father is the one to listen to on that. He cares for you more than anyone.'
'Naturally but you haven't answered my question. Should I be in this game?'
'From my point of view, I can't see the problem. You're grown-up.'
She was pleased, came up to him and put her hands on his shoulders. 'Please put your arms around me.' He did. 'Now kiss me.'
He did, then pulled back. 'You're absolutely delicious but you know this is ridiculous for us. I'm in this for a life partner, all right?'
'I know you are. So am I. Thanks, Hugh ... for believing in me. Is that Emma coming now?'
Emma tapped on the door, opened it, came in and observed Francesca in Hugh's arms. 'Bye for now, Chessa.'
She kissed him again quickly, said, 'Bye, Hugh,' and departed, also kissing Emma on the way out.
'Out with one lover and in with the next eh, Hugh?'
'Well, aren't you going to explain?'
'What - Chessa? She's a nice kid. She deserves to be in the game if she wants.'
'But not for you to make love to.'
'Just as I told her. She knows the one I have in mind. You know exactly the way it was so don't even try that one, Emma. Speak to me.'
'I told Nikki?'
He sighed. 'I know. She slapped me across the face twice.' Emma grinned. 'I've done some bad things but you're the worst I've done. I slept with Nadine too.'
'Well we know that - the handkerchief, remember?'
'We both knew you'd slept with her - it was what you did with her which was important. Did it happen?'
'No, I held her.'
'Well then, you'll get a slap and be told never to go near Nadine again -'
'She's done that.'
'Here's what you asked for, by the way. There was a little change and I'll give you that when we're in a safehouse together.' She pulled a little package out of her jacket and gave it to him.
'Thanks, Emma. Thanks for doing that. You're very special.'
'Hugh, Nikki is going to slap you again. For this.' She stepped up and started a most sensual kiss, gratified that he began to fall into it. He held her very close.
A minute later, they separated. 'Thanks, Emma, for what you did yesterday with Nikki, for what you did just now. I don't really have the words I'd like to say to you.'
'Then don't.' She smiled that smile she only brought out for such occasions, touched his cheek and left. His body, having stood for so long, was knackered and he sat down until the time was up.
Francine saw Emma approaching, more subdued than normal and put two and two together. She'd get it out of her during the next session. If what Francine thought had happened had actually happened, she was going to drastically revise her estimate of M. Jensen - downwards.
When he eventually returned to the main room, Nicolette was relieved to see it was alone.
Jacques and Nadine had the longest trek to the far outhouse but once inside, she left him in no doubt he was in the game.
As she stood provocatively close and as he took her in his arms, he knew she was not unlike the girls at the gym - he'd had his chances with the type, he'd dabbled a few times and hadn't been satisfied. It seemed to him that he needed someone more substantial, someone to start building a life with.
And yet, this young lady here had now dropped to her knees and was proceeding to give him the sort of pleasuring he would have taken as a matter of course in days gone by. Now, he wasn't so sure. She was clearly expert at the service too and he wasn't made of marble, he touched her shoulders, she reached into her pocket and brought out the protection, rolling it onto him, she rose, he took her and fell to the bed with her, they kissed with gusto but now he just lost interest and pulled out, rolling it off and flinging it in the bin.
He asked her about herself and listened to her tales of life, which saw them through to his tales of life, which saw them through to the end.
She was delighted and if she was aware of his own feelings in the matter, she didn't show it.
The first round had been completed and people congregated in the main room to take a glass of kompote and eat some meringues. After they’d eaten and drunk, Geneviève said she’d take silence to mean they should continue and there was silence.
‘So,’ she concluded, 'time for the second round.’
Nicolette knew she’d see Hugh in the third and nodded her acquiescence for him to go with Geneviève, who’d already gravitated over that way, to the shock of Nadine who clearly thought there'd been an agreement with him for this session. She went off in the direction of the outhouses, saying she wished to be alone.
Jacques eyed Nicolette who, though flattered, quickly said, ‘I want to speak with my grandmother,’ and she walked over in that direction. He joined Jean-Claude who'd stepped out for this round as well, Francesca had targetted her father and he very much wished to speak with her, Emma was back with Francine and Jean and so the second round began in earnest.
Nicolette spoke with her grandmother, there was no ceremony and they cut to the chase.
‘Oui, oui, I said liked him,’ commented Jeanette-Fleur. ‘He has kind eyes and he’d make a good father. He loves you very much but do look at his age, Nikki.'
Jeanette-Fleur looked at her granddaughter. Marcel, Nikki’s father, had never heeded her advice, he'd married the flighty number from Lille. The result had been Nikki and so, Jeanette-Fleur had been moderating her antagonism towards the girl’s mother ever since. She so wished she’d seen more of Nikki over the years.
‘Oui, grandmaman?’ Nicolette was patient.
‘I was just considering, Cherie. You want to know if Hugo would be right for you. Only you can answer that, but for what it’s worth, I’ve noticed that M. Jensen does things to intrigue certain women and then he’s susceptible to their wiles.’
‘Don’t I know it – that’s how we came to be together.’
‘Hugo’s a good man and just interesting enough to keep you interested but he needs to be pulled into line now, by you. Show him, Nicolette, that there’s every chance of losing you. Of course, that can only happen if you want him 100% yourself, nothing lacking. Will you marry him?’
Nikki wiped the remaining glass her grandmother had washed and suggested, ‘Who says we have to get married?’
‘You must marry - at his age and in your situation.’
‘Because I know you, my girl and when you’re actually married and things get difficult and there’s a baby boy or girl, you’ll think twice about walking out on him and going back to Thierry … or even Michel.’ She looked searchingly at her granddaughter. ‘Hugo is about to give away his last chance in life and you owe it to him – you must make him do the right thing. Anything less would be completely unacceptable. Has he means, substance?’
‘Oh Nikki, you always were this way. I think the two of you are quite suited.’
‘He’s more than interested in me.’
‘How many of his marriage proposals did you accept?’
Nicolette didn’t answer but kissed her grandmother, then went and sat down at the bench table.
Geneviève picked up the unmistakable fragrance of Emma and blanched. ‘Nicolette would be appalled. Michel would kill you. That's ... adultery.’
‘It was a kiss.’
‘Hugh, I’m shocked, I really am. You kissed Nikki when you were with me and now you are with her, you kiss Emma? Emma! She's married and with child.’
He sighed. ‘Am I allowed any defence?’ She nodded. 'Before these sessions, Nikki warned me that if I slept with any other woman but you, she'd leave me and never come back.' Genevieve nodded, knowing her partner well. 'Then came the idea of these sessions - she forbade Nadine but allowed me to make love with you one last time.'
'Really. Emma was never to have been in the game, nor was Chessa, so they were never discussed, although I think Nikki would have been more upset by Emma than Chessa.
Truth is, I knew Chessa would want to kiss and we did - and I wanted to know how her lips tasted - that's all she ever had in mind and me too. You never mentioned her to me now. Emma said she wanted to talk, she came in halfway through, we did talk about vital things and then we kissed.'
'Hugh, you've been with us for a long time now but there are still things you don't know about us. All our girls are rescuees, even Emma. We took her out of abuse and now this is leading her back into it, undoing what we achieved. You look at Emma in a certain way but she has a difficult history. Please don't take advantage of her.'
'Right, Genie. I shan't. Emma knows this anyway.'
'There's nothing innocent about you and me though, Ms. Lavacquerie.'
‘I haven’t forgotten.’
‘I always wanted you, Genie and I still want you now.’
For him, if there’d been no Nicolette, this would now have been without restraint. For her part, Geneviève fiercely resented not being able to give him her all but that kiss of his now was crammed with such devotion that it confused her. She let herself fall into it, the lovemaking becoming inflamed, almost rediscovering the Lodge.
There really were no beg pardons here and a lot of different things were being said but then they suddenly stopped short of the mark, so to speak.
‘I adore you, Genie. I always shall and that's all there is to it.’
‘Hugh, you know what you’ve planned and what I’ve planned. It's tragic but there it is. I’ll love you forever too.’
He touched her cheek, drew her close and wrapped his arms about her, chin over her shoulder, she held him just as tight.
They eventually disengaged, she gave a nervous little laugh and they made their way back to the main room, neither pair of eyes dry.
Thierry took his daughter’s hand and walked down the pathway towards the main road. Francesca couldn't help but reflect that if he hadn’t been so infernally her father, she would have had absolutely no doubt whom she'd have targetted. They spoke earnestly and low, in half sentences, often no more than mere gestures and raised eyebrows, at least until the end of the track.
'I wanted to kiss him.'
'Whatever for? He's an old man.'
'I wanted. And no he's not. He's a very kind man and he'd be my third choice. He likes you.'
'He told me to listen to your advice.'
'Did he now?' He smiled. 'Well, well, well. Did he kiss you?'
'No, I kissed him.'
‘We'll leave that for now. So, Nikki or Genie for your step-mother, Chessa?’
‘Which do you want?’
‘I’m going all out for Geneviève in the last round. I know Nikki has other plans.’
Francesca noted, ‘It’s Olivier’s decision too, Papa.’
‘Yes, but he’ll go along with me. It’s you - mon enfant terrible – you’re the one who can make or break it.’ She was so enormously flattered that she fell in love with him all over again.
‘Would you ever consider – ’ she began and he waited for her to continue. ‘Would you ever consider –’ She was tongue tied. ‘Well would you ever consider –’
He laughed. ‘Come on, out with it, mon enfant terrible.’
‘Would you ... ah ... consider ... me?’
He stared at her, then took her into his arms, stroking her hair. ‘Do you seriously think that I’d neglect you and Olivier, Cherie? Do you think you’ll be any less now than before?’
In a quiet voice from his chest, she set him straight, 'Non, Thierry Villeneuve, I wasn't saying that at all. I meant, would you consider me as your partner?’
‘Francesca, you don't know what you’re saying.’
‘I know exactly what I'm saying. She now looked up into his eyes and placed a kiss on his lips which shocked him, her arms went behind his back and her tongue found his. He was paralysed, dislocated, her mother appeared before his eyes, he pulled out of it, ‘Non, Chessa –’ and she went back to standing close in his arms.
'When you found Olly and I watching Le Souffle au Cœur, you sent him to bed and read to him until he fell asleep. You left me watching it, then came back and watched the end with me. Why?' He didn't answer. 'When I came to your bed after breaking up with Denis, you held me and I pressed myself against you and you didn't push me away. Why?'
He was stunned. 'You remember those things?'
‘What do you think? I know you want me but you can't.'
There was utter silence, except for her breathing and the breeze in the trees.
‘Francesca, I have needs too. Won’t you allow me to have them? I think Genie is the best chance in a long while. Don't you like her?' He sighed. 'This is what I feared.’
‘Well, if your heart is set then go to her and I’ll have Jacques.’
‘You might have a fight on your hands there,’ he chuckled but she looked at him with scorn.
‘I want you to know,' she said, 'that all these people might move on but you and I will go on forever.’
‘Oui, Chessa,' he was exhausted, 'you and I will go on forever. But at this moment, I need your blessing to marry Genie. Do I have that or do I not?’
‘Since when have I ever refused you anything, anything you really wanted?’
When all had returned to the main room, a different mood prevailed. Almost all were deep in thought, knowing full well that the last round was about to decide many of their fates. There was a certain thrill to it, as there would be to a high speed car crash – a thrill they could well have done without.
Francine and Emma had kept up a running commentary on the state of play – that is, when they weren’t helping Jeanette-Fleur with the makings. Francine had decided to give Hugh the benefit of the doubt, on Emma's say-so but still - there was something curious about those two.
All through the refreshment break, Nikki had been observing her predator out of the corner of her eye and was intrigued – he kept subconsciously pressing the breast pocket of his shirt and avoided looking at her. If she hadn't known better, she'd have said he was nervous, at which she felt enormously flattered. Francine and Emma had noticed it too and were quietly discussing, with amusement, how Nikki and M. Jensen were going to spend the forty-five minutes ... and where. Francine put her money on the guestroom but Emma opted for Nikki's own room on the upper floor.
Jean, Jean-Claude and Jacques now returned with Yves from the outhouse where he kept his wood turning lathe, little canapes appeared from the oven and the first aperitifs were poured.
Emma addressed them in her most theatrical manner, enjoying every moment. ‘What’s happened so far has been extraordinary and it’s still not over. After this round, I have no doubt there’ll be tears of joy and also of anguish. We must agree now, more than ever, all of us, to stick by the rules. We come back for supper, we go to separate sleeping areas, we regroup tomorrow morning and we depart together. Are there any dissident voices?’
No one spoke.
Quietly, she looked from one to the other, then, ‘All right, off you go.’
Nadine had tried to call Stefan, against Genevieve's express orders but had not been able to get through. She'd try again this round. Jean-Claude had made his play early and was resting, albeit anxiously, in the main room, talking with Emma.
Hugh went over to Thierry and said quietly, 'Bonne chance, I need you to have success.' Thierry looked at him and smiled. The two men actually shook hands, noted by Nicolette to whom Hugh now walked, saying to Jacques, ‘Use the guestroom if you need it.’
‘But you’re there. You can’t walk anywhere else.’
‘If I am allowed,’ Hugh turned to Jeanette-Fleur, addressing her in French, ‘the use of your granddaughter’s room for 45 minutes, Madame, and if she were also willing, I’d be more than grateful.’
She nodded her agreement to him, smiled and Nicolette looked at him curiously.
This left Geneviève and Thierry, who felt the woods were the place to be, dusk now being upon them. Both carried battery lanterns which were kept at the back door - the woods were the proper setting for the final act of this play.
Hugh started the shuffle for the back stairs, Nicolette following dutifully behind, which is about all you can do when the person in front of you is only shuffling.
The final round began.
Nadine tried his landline. No success. She tried the club – no, he’d been there last evening but wasn’t there at this time. Damn – the most important few hours and he wasn’t even available.
She tried his mobile again. Success. It rang and rang and rang and then he answered, a strange tone to his voice. ‘Oui, Nadine.’ Then she heard a mobile in the background and a girl’s voice saying, ‘Helene ici.’
She hung up.
Thierry took Geneviève by the hand as they left the farmhouse with the torches. The moment they were outside, everything became less intense, less crowded, clearer in their minds and they strolled towards the woods under the stars. The earlier rain had disappeared and even the moon was out, as if ordered for the occasion.
She felt more at home in Nikki’s galoshes than inside the house in high heels, and Thierry looked every inch the country magnate in Yves’ knee high wellingtons.
‘I never knew this pleasure would ever come to me,’ he smiled.
‘There was always something between us, wasn’t there, Thierry? Did you ever … well … think about me?’
‘Bien sur, particularly about the time you went to Paris. Everyone thought about you then.’
‘Did you Thierry? I thought of you quite often, and then Philippe –’
‘Oui,’ he rescued her.
They finally stopped in the little clearing fifty metres further on from ‘Nicolette’s gully’, he took her in his arms and she liked the touch very much. His easy manner in loving her, playing on her womanhood - it was the first thing she'd noticed the night before and what was better, she felt her cares slowly slipping away with him, she felt she could always bring them to him, find a ready and sympathetic ear and a loving pair of arms.
One by one, all her questions were finding an answer and in the light of those two lanterns in the French forest, she felt she’d found a home, that’s if he would have her, of course.
It simply felt right.
They placed the lanterns on the earth either side of them, the smell of the grass and trees after the rain filled the air, he passed his arms around her, she feeling sure he’d be quite a dancer as well and he kissed in the way only the French kiss, inviting her to abandon herself and she nearly did so, slipping, slipping into him, her breathing shortening.
Emboldened, he started to explore a little further and she found herself resisting with her hand, then allowing him a little further, then resisting again. So it went until her jeans prevented further access; she wanted the talking done first.
‘Marry me, Geneviève. Accept our family as your own, grace us with your presence. The children want you very much. We'll work hard on your troubles and it won’t be easy. You’ll reject me many times and yet I’m a patient, obstinate man and I’ll just keep coming back at you until all is well again, if it takes until next week or until eternity. Do you accept me - will you become my wife?’
She looked hard at him and in her was no reluctance, the only reluctance was that Hugh now had to be placed on the shelf of her private cupboard, the door gently closed and the key turned. Her new life had begun and the person whom she was came through in her reply.
‘Oui, Thierry, I do accept you, with all my love.’
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and took out a dark little box, he opened it and took out the ring, a beautiful stone and placed it on her finger. 'Emerald,' he said, as it wasn't possible to see the colour.
She languorously slipped her arms around his neck, drew him towards her and abandoned herself in her kiss but now her body also longed for him – she released all the jeans buttons and wiggled the jeans down, took one foot from the rubber boot, slid the jeans leg off and put the boot back on. She lifted her leg and placed her foot against the tree trunk - he moved in and took her.
He marvelled at how such a sharp operator who’d controlled his access to this point should now surrender so completely, be so wide open, so exposed, so vulnerable and now he saw why all those elaborate defences had been set up in the first place.
Time was already running out and they needed to start the trek back to the house. She pushed him out and laughed self-consciously. ‘Phew. My goodness.’
They walked back hand in hand - Jeanette-Fleur saw it from inside the kitchen. 'Bon, bon.'
At the foot of the steps, Nicolette laid a hand on his shoulder and said quietly but with that new directness, ‘You have something in mind and you expect me to fall in with it, using my room. I'm going upstairs now and will get the two chairs from my grandparents' room, we'll sit on them on the landing and I'm going to explain something to you, even if it takes 20 minutes, so you'd better change your plan. Will you be able to get up these stairs?'
'I've practised,' he said.
She skipped upstairs.
When he reached the top, he saw through her door the moonlight streaming through her window, accentuating the rich, plush look of the room but the main light was from the candle on the side table, flickering in the slight draft. It was perfect.
To the left were two padded wooden chairs.
They sat and she launched straight into it. 'I was going to threaten you - if you do this, then I do that but all that happens then is that the man says yes, yes, I'm so sorry and then it happens again, with the same result and then again. And one day, having been so unhappy, she finally leaves him. Sometimes he has not even be with another woman.
I think the thing a woman can't bear, can't stand, is not the infidelity but the way he thinks that with the head down, she will take him back. And he's right. Most times she will because she has invested so much into him, so much of himself. You know how much thinking a woman puts in and if she has a deep bond emotional with him, she can't face it disappearing.
This is why, when a woman does go, a good woman I mean, there has been so much in the past and she can't take any more. And that's why she doesn't come back, this is why women move on. The man thinks he has to get her back, he knows all the things which worked before, he believes they can work again and with some women they can. With me, they can't. You know my past, you know I'm unforgiving.'
Tears now came to her eyes and her voice was husky. 'You don't know how much you hurt me, going with Mademoiselle. But Emma was worse. I know what I did, I know what we agreed. It still killed me inside. You know me that day with Francine at your flat, how excited I was, how I just had to go to the cafe and talk it all through with Francine. I was so happy and then ... then it didn't happen. I went along with it, I wanted to see Thierry but it killed me and then Nadine described the wetness and stickiness and it wasn't with me. You were doing the same things with other women. It killed me.' She couldn't contain it any more and floods of tears, kept back all these weeks, now came out.
He went across, tried to put his gyps clad leg out to bend down and hold her and that was enough to break her out of it - she even giggled at what he looked like.
'W-what do you need me to do?'
'Get ready so I can get to you without barriers.'
'Give me three minutes.' She went in and closed the door.
She'd done a rapid change of clothing, standing on the sheepskin rug in only a long, loose, shimmering blouse with bell sleeves, the hem brushing her upper thighs, her hands clasped demurely in front, the light of the moon spotlighting her, the toes of those lovely feet of hers wiggling.
Hell she was ravishing, she saw he was as hard as a rock under his jeans and a smile played at the corner of her lips. 'It's perfect, Nikki - I adore this room. Seriously, I'm so nervous. Let's go to the window, in the moonlight.'
He picked up a cushion from the chair and that's when he saw the CD player. She saw him look at it curiously and explained that she kept it there for when she visited her grandparents.
'Really?' he smiled and had a quick look at the CDs, took the second-top one out, looked at the player controls, saw he could pre-programme up to six tracks, put the CD in and tapped the button three times. The music began almost immediately, he turned the volume down low enough to speak over comfortably and looked at her.
She was just staring at him. 'How did you know about Pendant que les champs brûlent?'
'French girl I knew in the 80s - I'll tell you later. You like it?'
'Like it? Hugh, it's in my collection, near the top of the pile - what are your other two songs?'
'You'll find out,' he chuckled.
'Wait, wait,' she said, 'we need flammes.' She grabbed the remote, then her candle, he followed her with the cushion, almost a torchlight procession, she positioned the candle at the far end of the sill but far enough away from the heavy curtain, he nodded for her to unzip him, placed the cushion on the edge, she lifted her blouse clear of her bottom and her straight body leaned back, they had it down to a fine art by now, slight adjustment and he was in, he arched towards her, she opened a fraction more, moving her feet apart and the kiss began.
From the CD player, Muriel Moreno sang: 'Ce soir-là on s'est embrassés sans se parler.
Autour de nous, le monde aurait pu s'écrouler.' [This night we kissed without speaking. Around us, the world might collapse].
Autour de nous, le monde aurait pu s'écrouler.' [This night we kissed without speaking. Around us, the world might collapse].
There were just his rhythmic thrusts, her punctuated breathing, his words near her ear: 'Je t’aime, Nicolette, je t’adore, vraiment je t’adore, un jour sans toi est comme un jour sans soleil ...' and the moonlight, always the moonlight.
Her back arched, her shoulders narrowed ...
'... vous êtes vraiment le femme le plus beau sur terre, je jure que ce n'est pas un mensonge ...'
... they were both slipping into a trance and his words became more erratic ...
'... et dans tes bras ...... c’est mon destin ......j’ai envie de toi, des......perement et je veux passer......passer ......ma vie avec toi ......non, avec Vous ...
He placed his open hand on her cheek, near her mouth, her open mouth turned into his hand and her tongue ran down his thumb and bathed it ...
'... la douceur de ta peau ..... est comme une ..... caresse du vent ...
... at which point she went motionless, there were some moments, then she shuddered and pushed him out ...
'... le paradis n'est rien comparé à un des tes baisers.'
Now unsupported, her legs buckled, she began to slide down the wall then fell to her right onto the rug, smiling, hands between her legs, watching him like a hawk.
'Now comes the difficult bit,' he smiled, switching to English. 'Would you turn the music down, love.' She reached up to the sill with one hand, felt around, found it and reduced the volume further. He went down on one knee in tribute, the other gyps bound leg had to be stretched behind and out to one side – ungainly and amusing. It obviously couldn't be a proposal, as they'd already done that, so it was in the nature of a reproposal.
'Do you still accept me, Nicolette Vasseur?'
She laughed. 'Oui, bien sûr, Hugh Jensen - je t’accepte.’
He reached into his top pocket and brought out a little velvet pouch; she wanted to take in the label but couldn’t quite catch it in the half light. ‘Would you also accept this for now, until we can go together to buy you the one you really want?’
He opened the pouch and took out a sapphire ring, surrounded by small diamonds, in white gold, slipped it onto her ring finger and it fitted exactly. How had he managed - never mind – she’d ask him later.
‘I don’t want any other,' her voice was now strained, 'I want this one.’
She grabbed the remote and, as the candle flickered on the sill, she upped the volume a bit.
Downstairs, Emma turned to Francine and smiled, 'I like their choice of music.'
'A bit soppy for mine,' commented Francine but then admitted it was a good choice for the occasion.
'Et le ciel peut toujours attendre, j'espère que tu seras tendre, On s'est partagé les torts, tu te croyais plus fort, Le temps semble s'arrêter, tu sais je ne renoncerais jamais.' [And the sky can always wait.]
'I don't want to go back down,' she whispered.
During Quand la Ville Dort, he watched and listened to her singing: 'Un peu plus tard après la nuit Et je n'ai pas encore dormi Un peu plus tard après la fin de l'aurore Mais est-ce que je t'aime encore. [A little later after the night And I have not slept A little later after the end of the dawn But I do love you still.]'
It was the end of their allotted time.
Francesca led Jacques by hand to the second outhouse and he began to dissuade the girl.
‘Francesca, you’re 19,’ [she appreciated the extra year and a bit he put on her age but it had actually been done to assuage his own guilt feelings], ‘and I’m 29. That’s simply too great an age difference.’
‘When you’re 49, I’ll be 39 and then you’ll appreciate the difference.’
He had to admit the force of that argument. ‘But I’m Parisien and you’re from Melun.’
He was out of words. She moved close, lips within reach, submissive, not trying to press her advantage any further than that and he was terrified. His lips took her lower lip and then it became a kiss and then it explored - he found a woman in the making, a family waiting to happen. His bachelor world was disintegrating around him and he fought himself. Infatuation, he told himself, first day I’ve met her.
She now began on his member and the way she coaxed it had him losing his last resistance. Letting him go and stepping back in her peasant skirt and blouse, barefooted, having kicked off her slippers, she dropped her eyes and uttered, in her huskiest manner, ‘I am yours to command. I can do no other.’
He stood both stunned and bemused – from what school play had she learned that? So that was her angle, eh – the simple, vulnerable, naïve and receptive peasant girl. He had to admit it was a mighty good angle.
'Francesca, you're ... very good.'
'Do you respect me?'
'Ah, yes. Of course.'
‘Then respect me – marry me.’
‘You will?’ She hadn’t expected to win quite so suddenly.
‘But I’m only 17.’
‘I’d like to marry you. I’ve fallen for you.’
‘Then ask me properly.’
‘Marry me, Francesca.’
‘You’ll have to face my father.’
‘I haven’t pressured you into it?’
‘Well, it’s a shock but non – I want you to marry me.’
‘You really, really want, oui?’
‘Then come over here and let’s get started.’
Geneviève, Thierry, Nicolette and Hugh went to respective bathrooms first and were some time getting back to the group, a point noted by all.
The first through were Jacques and Francesca, hand in hand and Nadine was so choked at the triumphant look on the younger girl’s face that she rushed for the guestroom and wouldn’t come out.
Next through were Hugh and Nicolette, holding each other close and though it meant not a lot to anyone except Jean-Claude who was delighted, nor was it a huge surprise and everyone wished them well.
Last through were Thierry and Geneviève - Jean-Claude dropped his head and sighed.
Chapter 8 here ... Chapter 10 here