Chapter 24 here ... 2nd Book Chapter 1 here
For their critical meeting, the one they'd agreed was the high summit, D Day, Anya and he chose a strange Eastern restaurant - you climbed a ladder to a mezzanine where standing up was impossible, so you languorously lay, not unlike Eastern potentates, on a series of cushions and dipped into the food at leisure.
An unworthy thought crossed his mind - would she be a Queen or concubine? It was so intensely close, even after all which had passed between them, that he asked, ‘How can we do this if we don’t feel anything for each other?’
‘But we do. It’s just all the other things which got in the way. There’s no need to deal with anything, just lying here together. It’s an evening out, a fantasy.’
He got down to it, telling her about a phone call with Geneviève, in which it was suggested he come for two months. He'd finished his obligations to his year levels at university but he usually helped out with exams and other things as well. What he was saying was - he'd rather she, Anya, would want him with her for those two months instead. Then, if it did not work out, there would be time to phone Genie and say he'd come for a year, find his own flat, get work at the university.
Anya spoke. 'It's too soon, Hugh, for you and me. I see your time frame but I have mine too. You think I'm trying to escape from you. Listen, if I was, I'd say to you now that I can't do this now but let's stay close. I'm not saying that. I'm saying we did have something and I'm very close to you. I can't come to you as a number two, it has to be as a number one but I need time to know about Italy. It's fairer to Geneviève for you to go there for a short time now, you can discuss everything, let me deal with Italy and then - when is your registration until?'
'I can stay until the end of August but to renew, that would have to be done mid-July.'
'So it seems clear enough to me. You go now for a month and a half, two months, I do what I must about Italy, you have to come back anyway for all your affairs, whatever we decide. We spend time together and then we'll know. What do you think?'
The flight was uneventful, Anya went with him as far as Frankfurt and eventually, at Orly, was Francine of all people, they embraced and headed down to the Lodge, his things were deposited and they went immediately to the Anglican Chapel - Francine wanted to get that out of the way first, though she didn't put it that way.
In the carpark, nothing had altered, not the trees, not the gravel, nothing. He felt Ksenia was not present this time, he returned to Francine, got in the car and spoke. ‘We haven’t had much to do with one another, Francine and yet you’ve done all these things for us. Je vous remercie.’
She gave a self-deprecating Gallic shrug and smiled at him. Then, on an impulse, she took his hand in hers, lifted it and kissed it as a man would have done.
The Lodge was not the same place - lovely as ever and Francine was sweet but it was not the same place. She knew that, everyone knew why he was there this time, everyone felt the tension and it was her job to report back up the line on his state, what he said - she laughed and admitted all this to him. He smiled.
He chose to be in the same bed as Ksusha - in that room - but it was empty now and Ksusha wasn’t here, no matter how hard he willed it to be so. She simply wasn't. He was in someone else's bed south of Paris, with people he knew just a bit.
Next morning, he looked out of the window and the familiar forest was beckoning. Francine had had to get up to town and now he saw two things on the stool at the foot of the bed – a note and a key. ‘Make yourself comfortable. Food is in the fridge.’
Well, well. Here he was in the forest by himself. Perhaps Francine’s tiff with Jean had reached proportions where she’d gone up to town, perhaps she was on duty, perhaps a lot of things. He was ready to make the shift to the Mercure if necessary.
Well, why not go for a walk while he still could?
Using the key, he went into her half of the place and felt uneasy being there, despite the invitation. Making a beeline straight for the fridge, there was another note that he should find the container 'called Hugh’.
He smiled. ‘Called’ Hugh?
The casserole was microwaved and it was the goods, things were washed up and it was time to hit the forest. No Geneviève to be seen and he hadn’t expected that - at least, not yet.
The forest was superb and everything was so … crisp.
He walked to the boulder he liked so much, the one Ksenia had skirted round and stood there, thinking at, back against the rock. To phone Genie or not? No, he wouldn’t – that was too forward. And yet, she might be half-hoping for that little push. Nothing ventured ...
The mobile was on roaming, he looked at her number staring back at him and thought to himself, 'Does she want a man or a mouse?'
Stepping away from the rock, he pressed 'call', there was a second or two pause and then he heard it ringing but not only on his phone - it was also ringing some two hundred metres or so away and he nearly had a heart attack.
He spun round. She'd just left the gate to the house and was stepping in his direction.
Light on her feet, she was still unmistakably a woman, a lady, the full-on thing after Anya and he wondered if he wasn’t biting off more than he could chew here. He wasn't Philippe and yet here she was, walking towards him.
'Genie,' he spoke into his phone.
She laughed at the other end and said, 'With you soon,' closed her mobile and put it away.
Mon dieu, she thought to herself - what am I doing? Why? Why? And in that moment, she knew she was mightily peeved with Philippe, someone who took her for granted in a way Hugh never would.
Was she using Hugh? She thought it over, even as she approached him and concluded - yes and no - this might be the real thing here. It might.
There was one second of hesitation and only one second. It surprised and shocked both of them but they just came into each other's arms as if they'd always done so, the kiss began so naturally, deepened as if they'd long been together and now became quite primitive, quite Rousseau - he saw another France here, the raw side where the sophistication was absent, where the ethnicity was quite apparent and the truth was that it was more exciting, especially in this setting, than the most sophisticated Parisienne femme fatale could ever have been.
It was getting out of hand and she pulled away, a lady till the last. ‘Non, non, not here, not out here.’ Her accent went straight through him.
Taking his hand, she led him back hurriedly to the Lodge and turned to him at the gate.
‘Are you alone?’
He stopped dead. First move.
He thought about it for some seconds, thought of Ksenia looking on, hoped she’d understand, thought of Anya whom he couldn't lay claim to and said, ‘I'm alone.'
‘I have to be honest,' she replied. 'I don’t know if I am alone yet. There are so many things to learn about each other, there is still Philippe but I am here now with you.'
He indicated the Gardener's Lodge. 'Shall we?'
'Stop one moment. Please. Look Hugh, if you really came to Paris to make me yours, then you would be patient, you would be serious about this relationship and you’d respect my wishes. Please say you’ll do this, that you'll let me find my own way to you.’
‘Of course I shall. I can't expect to walk in and it will all happen like that.’
‘Much has happened already, Hugh, much has. What if it takes me a long time to decide – too long?’
‘Then, as long as something hasn’t happened in the meantime, that’s the way it must be.’
She looked at him and sighed. ‘This is no affaire I'm contemplating with you but a beginning. I don’t want empty words of romance, Hugh, I don’t want a man who only wants me for the physical things. I want a man who will be true, who wants to spend his life with me. I shall be loyal to that man and he will never complain that his woman does not treat him well.’
He listened to her speak of 'his woman', thrilled to the core. The air though felt distinctly chilly on their faces and both knew they’d have to go in and make the fire.
‘Come. Enough words,’ she smiled.
They went through, he made the fire up and lit it, while she went next door for some wine. When she returned, he was feeding kindling into the flames, put on some larger wood and then a log. It would have to look after itself for now.
He took his glass and toasted to whatever was going to be. She thought about that, smiled and they clinked glasses. Now, in terms of the rules of engagement they’d agreed at the door, they couldn’t very well get physical but her whole body language said otherwise and so did his.
They both grinned.
She sighed and rapidly removed her clothes, down to her lingerie then jumped into 'her' divan bed. He followed suit, got in and drew her close, hands over her bare back, her body already moving rhythmically before they’d even begun.
What now? He fumbled with the clip of her brassiere, one of those impossible ones and it became apparent that he couldn’t unclip it. Now this was a turn-up and she laughed. This was excellent news in fact. She relaxed, slipped the straps off her shoulders, dropped it to her waist, brought the clip to the front and undid it. ‘If I didn’t know better, M. Jensen, I’d say you were a virgin.’
‘I am a virgin. Be gentle with me.’
Now she showed her amazing capacity to switch off. ‘Hugh, I have to warn you - no one gives you any chance. They’re sorry for your loss but they don’t see how you can achieve what you want. And yet I watched you with Ksenia and you treated her as I wish to be treated, I watched her in bed that night and knew she was happy with you.’
He waited for her to say more but she seemed to have finished.
She then said: ‘Well?’
‘Ah, right.’ He moved in, she ever so swiftly relinquished control, he paused briefly and a quizzically raised eyebrow on his part was interpreted correctly. 'Yes, you need not worry about that.'
'You don't want me to put on -'
'I'd prefer you didn't. It's more natural.'
'Ah.' Natural was the word. Their lips met and it passed through the various stages, confirming once more that she was artless beneath that poise, a real enfant sauvage, underlining how much people of their vulnerability really do emotionally lay themselves open.
There was no return now, her own fever had him frenetic which, in turn added to hers. When it reached that moment, it was so intense that he embarrassingly couldn't slow his rhythm enough to make the connection, she hurriedly guided him and then they were there.
They actually paused now, almost in suspended animation, while the import of what they were doing sunk in, then it began a new phase, slower, more powerful and yet quite peaceful.
When they paused for a breather, she turned onto her back and with that amazing detachment again, said, ‘If you like, Hugh, Louise will get you introduced at the university - work should not be too hard to find and it will be some actual money for you. The flat I’ve already lined up, friend of mine – that’s if you’d like it and are prepared to pay the nominal rent. It’s in a nice part of the 12ème arrondissement, not far from us all.’
He just looked at her again, at this ability to switch off and then on again. Her mind was an interesting piece of machinery and for a person who ran such a tight Section, someone even her best friends called Mademoiselle, the way she did exactly as he told her now had him puzzled and even a little unsure - it was not exactly his metier to run the whole show.
She certainly wasn't lazy but she preferred to join in with whatever he began. Occasionally she'd deflect him or adjust and he was quickly learning her as well - in fact it was really quite natural, as if they'd been together for a long time. From what little he'd heard, that man of hers did not appreciate what he had on his hands. What a fool.
As their fronts were burning, he turned her over, wrapped his arms around her from behind, he was about to start again but she snuggled her bottom into him, found the most comfortable place, head on the pillow, that beautiful auburn hair everywhere and promptly fell asleep.
He was left marvelling.
Eventually he dropped off himself.
A commotion outside startled him out of his slumber. A car door had slammed and there was movement in the other building. They hadn’t drawn the drapes and she was still deep in sleep, breathing evenly and easily - she must have been very tired from her work. There just wasn’t time to get out of bed and get something on.
Oh faeces, he thought. Suddenly, the outer door from the other building opened, then theirs and Francine, obviously preoccupied with something else, bustled in, took one look, muttered, ‘O, merde,’ and went straight back to the other building.
It woke Geneviève, she came to quite rapidly, took in the situation, buried her head in her hands for thirty seconds, said to herself, ‘Mon dieu,’ dropped her head back on the pillow, pulled her hands down to her hips in the most exquisite way and stared at the ceiling. ‘All right. Yes. Right. It’s done now. I’m not going to explain anything to her but maybe we shan’t be able to do this at the Lodge next time.’
Then she giggled.
The next thing, Francine came through again, more delicately this time, perched on the end of the bed in her elegant jeans and dark green top, observed his blank look, observed her apprehensive yet noncommittal look, smiled and raised her eyes to the roof.
That smile meant the world to both of them, their first tacit acceptance as … well … as an idea, as a concept.
Francine gazed at Geneviève, nodding. Geneviève gazed back in an almost defiant way. Then they both burst out laughing, Francine finally putting her hands on her lap and looking up at the ceiling again, muttering, ‘Mon dieu, mon dieu, mon dieu,’ with Hugh looking from one to the other.
‘Hmmm,’ she decided. ‘Anyone fancy something to eat? I’m famished. I’ll give you twenty minutes. Mademoiselle, you can use my bathroom; Hugh can use this one.’
Seated round the wooden dining table, sipping on a consomme, Francine put them straight. ‘It’s your business what you two do but it does seem better down here than at Mademoiselle’s apartment. I’m very angry with Jean just now – he’s at his mother’s and I’ve just finished swearing at him. Now look, I love company and I especially like it now. I suggest you leave Hugh here and come down each evening.’
Geneviève looked dubious, Francine rested a hand on her forearm and said, ‘Truly. I’d prefer you to be here. I hate being alone, I detest it and quite frankly, I need you both now. At least until after the weekend. Please?’
‘And when Jean comes back?’
‘Then we’ll have bonhomie and a company of four. He’ll be delighted, I know him. We get on each other’s nerves here alone.’
‘Merci, Francine. Just for a few days.’
‘I have to get back now. Le manoir, il est votre manoir, mes petites,’ she chuckled, took care of herself in the nearest bathroom and then, walking back past them to the glass door, touched fingers and thumb and said, ‘Ciao.’
They looked at one another after she’d gone. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘she took that well.’
‘No she didn’t, Hugh. I played right into her hands. In our Section, there are two people dead against me being with Philippe, possibly a third, they think what you think of Philippe but they say nothing because that would drive me closer to him.
The President of this Club is Francine, this contre-Philippe Club and today has given her the fuel she needs. She needn’t say a word, she’d never say a word, Francine. She’d never look me in the eye and smile. She’d just be there with me and both of us would know.’
Hugh was tense. ‘I’m worried the bubble has now burst with you and me.’
She looked at him quizzically. ‘It hasn’t burst – that’s just the problem - quite the opposite in fact,' she reached for his cheek, 'and down here in the forest – well don’t you think it's just too divine?’
‘It’s superb, you’re superb. Let me pour some wine.’ He did the honours. ‘Who were the other two in that Club you spoke of?’
‘After Francine - Nicolette and maybe Emma. They’re working on Emma.’
‘So, your three most senior people, your most trusted people whom you love too.’
‘Yes, point taken and they’re right, especially Emma – she’s always right and that’s what I’m fighting. I’m the only one still wanting Philippe.’
‘But that can often be enough, Genie.’
‘Perhaps. I should have asked Francine to take me back up to Paris and I didn’t. When Philippe’s with me, it’s as I wish it, how I see my life going but when he’s away … with one of them sometimes … then I see that the Club is right.’
‘I’d still prefer to be in Philippe’s position than mine – the devoted love of a woman wins every time.’
‘It’s not a competition.’ He didn’t answer, she thawed and put her hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Do you want to go for a little walk?’
They dressed warmly, she went through to the kitchen and packed a backpack each, they put the boots on and off they went, through the sparse trees and over to the first ridge. He helped her down the rocks on the far side although she was probably better off doing it herself and on they went, into the forest, down crags, up the other side, over boulders, sometimes jumping from one rock to the other.
On the last almost buried boulder on one slope, he lifted her up in his arms, her arms went round his neck and they took seven or eight wooden paces.
‘Heavy, aren’t I?’
By way of answer, he carried her over near a flat, smooth rock and set her down; she immediately saw the lie of it, he removed his jacket and put it behind her head, she attended to his attire, moved hers aside, lay back on the rock and the next fifteen minutes were spoken for.
There wasn't a great deal of finesse.
Three figures at the Lodge saw them appear over the last ridge an hour later – Francine, Jean and Emma.
With them now back inside the main building, Emma asked, ‘Weren’t you cold out there?’ to which Geneviève replied, ‘Only when we made love.’ Emma almost spilled her drink.
She asked if she could take M. Jensen for a walk. Hugh looked at Geneviève, she looked up at the ceiling and nodded. Now he was to get the professional once over – the verdict later would be interesting.
He rugged up again and so did Emma.
Hugh wasn’t to know how far she was the Section Distant Early Warning or just how sharp she really was. Walking beside him down that now familiar path to the right, towards the big boulders, she spoke in desultory terms for some time but the moment she reached the small clearing, she turned to him and asked what his intentions were.
He decided to be open, told of his first meeting with Geneviève, of the way it had gone, of how serious they were about it now, that it was no affaire but something more, of how Francine had sprung them earlier in the Gardener's Cottage.
‘We’ve all invested much in this Section, Hugh. I appreciate you allowing me to question you like this but you do understand that we put the Section first and Mademoiselle is the head of that Section. Therefore we are interested in her man.’
‘I know that Francine, Nicolette and maybe you too are against Philippe because of the way he takes her for granted. You’d also be aware of why I came back to Paris. Ksusha was aware of all this but she was never in any danger that I had eyes for anyone but her.
When that ... thing ... happened, it was a matter of time before Genie and I explored the possibility. As for the Section - well, it's part of you all, isn't it, so naturally I support it.’
‘What if the Section felt you were a danger to it? Would you let Mademoiselle go, in the interests of the Section?’
‘Clever question but I think you can guess the answer. If Genie was so entwined with her Section that she felt I was a menace, then I’d withdraw from her, no question. If it was members of the Section telling me I was a menace, I’d talk it out with Genie.’
Emma nodded. ‘Do you love her?’
‘You can see that I do.’
‘I had no right to expect an answer to any of those questions. We’re always suspicious of new people and you’d understand, by the nature of what we do, we have to be very careful.’
‘It should be that way.’ It hadn’t been too great a leap of imagination to see that Emma was quite a prize in herself and when she now moved up to him and said, ‘I like you myself, Hugh,’ the alarm bells rang, he politely stepped back onto the path and asked, ‘Shall we go back?’
He’d played that one too well, she thought and yet genuine threats were always going to be personable, weren’t they? He seemed fine but she was going to dig deeper.
They walked back to the Lodge.
An early supper had been prepared because Emma had to go back up to Paris, the conversation became animated over this local issue or that, Francine gesticulated, Jean counter-gesticulated, Genie put in her comment and Hugh asked if it was about the local mayor.
It was. Emma asked his opinion, he smiled and took another mouthful of the casserole.
They finished up, Emma said her goodbyes, Geneviève went out to the car with her and they spoke out there for some time.
Under the covers on the made-up divan, he knew the conversation was going to get serious. He let her go first.
‘There’s something wrong in our Section and it might be to do with me. Occasionally, I become … less able to cope and it lasts a few days but I do come out of it.’
‘Well, that’s all right then.’
‘No, it’s not all right. Strange things happen in our Section. You need to know that now. Not every man could accept the way we live. Philippe accepts it because he doesn’t care; somehow, I think you might care too much.’
‘Perhaps. May I ask, why does Emma hardly ever appear and the mysterious Nicolette never appears?'
‘Did you want them to?’
‘I think there were other things on our minds, Genie. I was just curious.’
‘Nicolette is the other side of me. When I am here, she is there. When I am there, she is elsewhere. We’re always on the phone. Emma you’ve met – she’s our strategist, our planner, our protector. She has a clockwork brain, Emma does and she’s always on the move.’
‘You know I must go back to Shadzhara, we both need that time away from each other to think as well but when should I go? Sooner or later? Have you found out what you want to know or what?’
‘Have you not thought that I might just want you to stay here because I want?' She sighed. 'Go next week, Hugh. We can’t stay down here forever and I can’t have you up in Paris at this time because to do that, I’d have to say goodbye to Philippe first. You understand?’
When the university heard he'd returned, he was roped back into the exams commission, he often saw Viktor and Anya, things were sorted out at Ksusha's place and a couple of tenants - an old couple - would take on the flat from late August.
There was no sense to be had from anyone official during summer, at either end - Geneviève and he agreed it might be better to hang on where each was now, planning to meet in late August, close to when his registration ran out. It was a long time apart and yet ... it was probably better.
Summer was like any other, except for one thing - the grand meeting with Anya. Same restaurant, same floor.
'You'll work through early July, won't you?'
'Yes, they're arranging the work in Paris so I need to reciprocate. We haven't even discussed you and me.'
'I'm still not saying no. I'm not happy with how he's acting and there's a Russian man but even he's not right. I think no one is right. Perhaps your the most right in some ways.'
'But not in others. We need a long time away from each other, my love. Not too long and not forever. I think I want you more than you want me.'
'Don't speak like that. You don't know how much I might need you. Go for your year, Hugh. We can always invite you again, officially I mean, the university would too. Go for this year. I can handle you being away for a year, not forever.'
The flight was fine - up in the air, down again in Frankfurt, up again, down in Orly, collecting his one carry case.
Voila - there she was, the lady herself - fabulous, truly fabulous, in that simple yet flowing pleated frock with the small white dotted navy, her upper chest and shoulders bare, appropriate for the 25 degrees and brilliant sunshine, her hair tied up, which he liked at any time because it was all the more neck and shoulders to kiss and her simple flat pumps, more alluring than heels.
They made the Gallic embrace, he told her all he'd just observed and once in the car, it was on for real, his kisses all over that neck and those shoulders, the elasticized band of her frock ridiculously easy to pull down to her waist - she now lay back in the driver's seat, abandoned, before finally making an effort to pull out, breathing, 'Let's get back first.'
She put the car into gear and was soon on the highway, but heading north.
‘Where are we going?’
‘To your new apartement, of course, around the corner from me.’
‘Francine wants you permanently at the Lodge but that can’t be. Your work is in Paris and you don't have a car yet, you need to settle in and then we’ll have some days or nights at the Lodge. You do understand I can’t be with you the whole time now – one reason is security, the other is ... me.’
'And of course - Philippe.'
She slowed the car a little. 'That's so but please don't keep on about it. That's what the Club does and it does not help their cause.'
She relaxed and quickly flashed him a smile, grinding into third gear. He watched while she did that - she never cursed, never tried to cover it up, just made a few attempts to get into third but when it did go in, the engine was too lumpy, yet she insisted on driving in third until the car started behaving itself which, on the slight incline now, it soon did.
It was an endearing trait and she had many of those.
The flat was not unlike hers in layout - many of them were similar in the area. Not as leafy as her avenue but nice enough and for that rental - amazing. He saw it coming together, saw the work ahead at the university, saw that even if it didn't work with Genie, he'd be happy enough with the life here - it had a good feel to it all.
She brought out coffee and unwrapped some sweetmeats she'd stopped by and bought, they had a most civilized coffee time.
The next hour was far less civilized.
'I have to go.' It was said with very little conviction, she washed and dressed; he was well aware she'd now pass from his life into another's, he had to accept it for now.
'It's more difficult in Paris,' he answered, unnecessarily.
'Yes. I don't like this.' There, she'd come out with it. 'It puts me on edge, Hugh. I'm not the type who can go from lover to lover. I become ... in tune with someone ... I like to build from there. I can't just go to you, then leave and go ... there. I don't know what to do about it.'
'I'm so sorry.'
'Why? What for? You're on a mission as you know, as we all know, I'm actually the major supporter of that mission, so those are empty words. Don't say those things - because they're torture for both of us. And tonight, do you think I'll not be aware you're alone here? I should never have let you come ... but then I'd never have forgiven myself if you hadn't ... and if I'd been the one who'd prevented you.'
At 22:15, she was back.
She paused an eloquent length of time and added, 'Paris is impossible for us to meet in. Nikki is covering for me tonight and as I say, I must go there later, just to keep faith with Philippe but I am being unfaithful, aren't I?'
'Not if I'm your intended. Then it's just a case of how to extricate yourself.'
She knew any reply would place her in a position she couldn't defend but equally, he knew not to set her at war with herself. He conceded, 'Why don't I go to the Lodge for a while?'
She was dismayed because that was the admission that they'd just been spinning wheels, with no prospect of resolution on the horizon. Besides, his work was up here and she needed to get to him quickly if need be.
'I think not at this time. You need to be up here. We'll work out a way.'
Eight hours a week at the university was not arduous, and yet it kept life and limb together, supplemented by private clients, of whom there were more than enough to add up to a tidy income - enough for him at any rate.
He'd found a lucrative channel in having some of his stories translated and there was a certain French market for those, he also did some studio voice work - so all in all, not a bad arrangement ... plus he was in Paris.
There was a point of view which maintained that this was not an untoward life, that he ate well and drank well, that his circle was increasing and he could even have been happy.
Naturally he wasn't, nor was she.
This had had the effect of turning the Section savagely against Philippe, to the point where, if she even mentioned his name, the women would go silent until she moved onto the next topic. Now when she mentioned Hugh, they were beginning to do the same thing.
Geneviève knew every last bit of it and still she could not, would not cut the ties with Philippe - the worse he got towards her, the less attentive he was and the more time he spent away from home, the more fervently she held on and yet the more time she spent with Hugh, the less able she was to cut those ties too.
One evening in his flat, the frustration bubbled over and he said that which should never have been said - that she seemed to want to keep running both men in parallel, she dissolved into tears, hurriedly dressed and left.
She was back very late that evening.
A delegation comprising Emma, Francine and one called Melanie whom he hadn't met before, arrived at the Lodge to see Hugh who'd been invited down there for the weekend.
Meanwhile, Nicolette had been charged with talking some sense into Geneviève in Paris.
They put their case and he patiently explained that it wasn't only Mademoiselle's feelings involved but that Philippe was also the funding conduit, the means by which they stayed afloat. They told him she'd tried to find alternative sources of funding but they'd dried up each time.
They asked him to wait just a while longer until something broke their way.
The biggest problem of all was that she'd come to terms with the dilemma and could live with it. She never gave ultimatums, never became distressed unless he or they tried to broach the topic and everyone knew this couldn't go on.
It did go on. Both were quite busy in their work, they both took their chances and what they were having was an affaire, when both had promised each other it would not be. A less than honest motivation for him was to reach that point with her, past which she could no longer let him go.
Then he might be able to gently issue an ultimatum, perhaps tied in with an invitation to return to Russia. Frankly, where would he go? Back to Shadzhara, with his new life here? To whom back in Russia? He knew that she knew he was cornered that way but she was equally as cornered, both on account of the Section and of herself.
She'd shown signs in recent weeks of having to go away again, Emma had warned him and the Club saw this as the best opportunity for a while.
She returned, strangely distant as always and as always, gradually returned to normal and warmed to him again. News came through from Emma, via Francine, that Philippe was going away on business in late May - that would be a golden opportunity for him to take her away for a trip.
She hadn't wanted to be too far from Paris and anyway, she could combine business with pleasure in Prague - there were contacts to be established in that city. It also doubled as her cover story in her mind.
Prague was a whir, she fell into him as completely as she ever had, avoiding any discussion of The Topic, a repertoire of theatrics at the ready, he was convinced now that she actually wanted it this way, these two lovers - catering for either side of her. Nice arrangement.
It was lovely with Marc and Dilyara again, plus little Dilyara. There seemed to be another on the way.
When they got back, so many issues faced her, plus Philippe soon returned and Hugh didn't even see her for two weeks - phone calls at odd hours the only concession, phone calls distraught, apologetic, insisting that there'd be time soon.
On his half days free, he'd come down to the Lodge, which Francine was more than happy about as it gave her company for that part of the day she was home, it gave her a reason to even come home, whereas she'd have stayed in a cafe or in their office.
Emma came out this late morning to the two rocks in the forest where he would sit on these occasions and he was pleased to see her. Pretty-pretty was Emma, with that smile many would die for. Cheeky-faced was Emma.
Married was Emma.
'As you know, Hugh, your affaire began at the Lodge one and a half years ago today. That's a very long time. Has it moved any further forward?' When he didn't reply, she asked if she could continue. 'Do you want it to move forward?'
'You know that.'
'Mademoiselle has become too comfortable. She's not the only woman in Paris who's shown interest in you, even in our circle. It's perfectly obvious that you believe you could not be satisfied with anyone else's love but I believe you must try. Mademoiselle is a typical administrator - always finding the comfortable way where everyone gets along.
You need to challenge that. Your fear of losing her is irrational. If she feels anything for you at all, she will make moves to recover you, she'll be forced to confront what she has to do. The funding is a big issue, yes and you feel you owe her for your apartement, which you love. You know she's the link to the Lodge which we all agree is a delight.
You've become too comfortable yourself. Why don't you meet Francine's friend Marie-Ange? She's sympathetique, she's intelligent and she wants to meet you. A supper, that's all.'
It might have been her nervousness but the essential problem with Marie-Ange was not so much her effusiveness as her 'large' manner. At a witty comment, she would throw the head back, open the mouth wide and deliver a large, full-fanged laugh. Time and again she'd get into the thrust of the conversation which, to be fair, everyone was but whereas they'd pause and look at someone interrupting, she would press on regardless to the end of her remark, even if she had to ride over someone else speaking
He hoped it would be different in side by side divan beds and it was certainly quieter but she'd say something, he'd reply and as Vivian Stanshall might say, it was a 'you speak, I pause, you pause, I pounce' affair and really quite wearying.
She was probably sublimely unaware of what was behind his plea of tiredness and the necessity for sleep. His snoring probably annoyed her just as much.
Emma turned up just after midday the next day, instead of Geneviève. 'Would you go for a walk with me?'
More scrutiny, he thought but as if she'd read his thoughts, 'It's not to test you, not to observe you, I've done all I need to do. It's just to be here in this forest, with company, your company. It's a lovely day and I have this time between jobs. I'd love to go for a walk.'
'It would be my pleasure.'
They made it to where Genie and he liked to stop, then made it to where she, Emma had sat down last time. 'Let's go deeper into the forest,' she suggested, 'much deeper.' He looked across sharply but how could she have known about Ksenia and the forest? Even with a baby on board, she was so light, so compact, Emma, that face so cheeky and ... appealing.
'Where's Michel today? At work?'
'He's with a woman and I'm going to issue him with an ultimatum when I see him later.'
'I've enough complications, Emma, without being co-respondent.'
She now took him down a path he'd not been before and it was heavily overgrown, darker, until they came out in a clearing with branches above them overhanging, once again uncannily like a place he'd been.
She moved up too close and said, quietly, 'There are quite a few in the section who do not like you here, your influence on Mademoiselle. I was wary, so was Francine and Nikki but now we think you're welcome, you're good for Mademoiselle. We just want it resolved, if you see what we mean.'
He nodded. 'And Hugh,' she looked up into his eyes, 'There are many more Emmas in this part of France, not all in the city.'
'You mean many more Genies.'
'Oh yes, how silly of me. I'm trying to get you to see that you're established here now, this is your home really and we're your friends too, not just Mademoiselle. If things did not work out - and we hope they do, of course - then you would not need to leave France.'
She stepped closer. He sighed and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. 'I can't, on so many levels.'
'You're wicked. You could trouble someone's mind.'
She grinned. 'Shall we walk back?'
She fell in beside him and her hand brushed his, then again a few moments later. He stopped and looked at her, breathing deeply. She had that innocent look on. He turned back to the path and her hand accidentally brushed his again.
He stopped again, took her hand and raised it to his lips, they then walked on in silence, hand in hand, until close to the main path, when hse pulled on his hand to stop.
He stood there, she stepped up again. What the hell was she playing at? He took her in his arms, his head beside hers but resisting a kiss.
Then they parted and he kept a metre between them down the main path, with surreptitious glances across from both of them. She even started a little skip in places.
They met Geneviève coming this way down the main path, roughly where Emma had sat down last time.
'Ah, there you are, you two. Emma,' she nodded to her 2IC without the slightest suspicion of anything and that told him a few things. 'Hugh,' she grinned. 'I'm told you found Marie-Ange's charms less than overwhelming.' He looked upwards. 'I could have told Francine you'd never take to that one. I don't think they were serious about taking you from me.' She looked straight at Emma.
Truth is, Hugh, if we can secure this funding - and it's close at last, through friends of the Inspector - I'm now ready to drop Philippe. I've had enough, you're not happy, Philippe has no intention of changing anything. How far did you two go just now?'
Emma knew she had to answer geographically and described the clearing.
'Ah yes, I know it well. I think that's where Michel agreed to marry Emma. Nice place. I was born near here, Hugh, I know every part of this forest, I could take you down paths you've never been, I could take you right through to the other side. We could go all the way.'
Emma smiled at how clumsy Mademoiselle could be but that's what endeared her. 'Well, I'll leave you two to it,' she offered and off she went, skipping along the path.
Geneviève placed a hand to his cheek. 'Mon pauvre, you've been so patient - how much longer will you give me?'
'I accept what you just said, Genie, I'll even try to find funding for the section myself through people I know. But I think if, by this time next year, we're no further advanced, it might be time for you to seriously decide whether I'm right for you.'
She was shocked to the core. 'Yes - yes - that seems fair. Yes - one year seems about right. We'll have a solution by then. Don't be cold to me, you know it will be you, I've just told you.'
'I'll be very close the whole time. Well, apart from when we're both working.'
'Just a little longer and all will be well.'
Chapter 24 here ... 2nd Book Chapter 1 here